Today I would like to introduce you to a guest poster, Dayton! Dayton is a self proclaimed overachiever who dealt with a lot of anxiety over choosing her major when in college. Today she is here to help give some tips about how to pick the right major for you and an insight on how to avoid the stress that it can cause.
The distance between who I’d been in high school and who I was now could have encompassed the world twice over. At least, in my mind. The overachiever, the star student, the girl with infinite untapped potential had devolved into an aimless, confused woman with enough credits to graduate a year early but not enough in one subject.
I’d somehow managed to slip through the university bureaucracy and was still “undeclared” as a junior. I swapped my classes out more in the first two weeks than most kids did during online registration. Frozen with indecision, I stared at the ceiling for hours, dreading yet another day where I made progress in a path I wasn’t sure I even wanted. The way I saw it, every day that I didn’t commit to becoming a neuroscientist, a lawyer, a doctor, a novelist, whatever, was another day that I “lost”, that I should’ve been working towards my real calling in life, whatever that was. I had to succeed, even if I didn’t know what “success” was. And while everyone placated me by pointing out that no one my age had it all figured out, they didn’t see how heavy this weighed on me.
I’d never been so lost.
This sort of depression isn’t unusual among overachievers. Perhaps it was just an obsession with finding the “right” answer where there wasn’t one. And that was the hardest lesson for somebody like me to learn. Even though picking a major isn’t easy for most college students, for overachievers, it can be earth-shattering. Somehow, though, I made it through, but I should’ve been a lot easier on myself. Hopefully, you can follow advice where I couldn’t.
Realize it Doesn’t Matter Anyway
Look, I know this is probably against everything you’ve ever been taught. After all, whenever I tell people that I graduated with a degree in political science, the second question I get asked (after “What’s that?”) is always, “Well, what’re you going to do with that?” People don’t realize that just like asking what someone will do with a high school diploma. A bachelor’s degree is becoming the new standard. Yeah, some jobs mandate a certain degree, especially in the hard sciences, but not everyone is going to be an engineer or chemist. Most major don’t have a specific career path lined up after graduation, and that’s okay. We still need administrators, managers, PR specialists, etc. In fact, most college grads don’t work in the same field as their major, and that’s okay!
Reflect on Your Past Classes
I knew that STEM programs were encouraging women to join, and I’d always been good at math and science, so I pushed forward with a major in microbiology. And while the material itself was interesting, I hated lab work; I found it tedious and monotonous, even as my classmates grinned at the painfully gradual color and phase changes. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending the rest of my life in a lab, but that’s exactly where that major would have lead me.
It’s tempting to pick a major that aligns with popular conceptions of “success”. We’ve been told that computer science and medicine are some of the best fields to go into right now, and with college getting more and more expensive, we’re eager to show a return on investment. But if the thought of working in labs thrills you as much as it did me, there’s not enough money in the world to make it worth it.
So, I looked back at the classes that I had the best time in. I never skipped the required reading in my political science courses, I actually enjoyed writing the papers, and I looked forward to the discussions. But there isn’t any clear-cut path for a poli sci major. And even though I didn’t know what I’d do with it, I knew what I definitely didn’t want to do, and that was enough.
Reevaluate Your Standards
You’ve always been an overachiever, but that doesn’t have to change when you enter the real world. I excelled by earning top grades and intellectually challenging myself at school, but excelling means something different after college. It means whatever you want it to. You get to make the rubric. No more including seven peer-reviewed sources or APA format. Instead, you can succeed by still challenging yourself, even when your classmates never pick up a book again. You can succeed by meeting your own standards.
If you need society’s admiration and everything that goes along with it (big house, nice car, kids in private school) then admit that. If that is really important to you, it’ll be easier to muscle through four years of a boring major than to hate yourself for the rest of your life. For me, that’s not so important, but it’s not a bad thing if it is for you. Just recognize your priorities, and be ready to make sacrifices if necessary.
The choice you make now is as important as you want it to be. Some people know exactly what they want to do, and good for them. For the rest of us mortals, we get to decide exactly how much weight our major carries. It does have the potential to lead us into a predestined career, or it can just be a stepping stone in your exploration. Either way, your time in college will be formative on its own- you don’t need to add more pressure if you don’t want to.
What made you decide on your major?