When I returned from break, after three weeks of not seeing the people I had spent every second with for five months, you can imagine there was a lot to catch up on. Besides updates about life back home and the exchange of new schedules, there was one change that stood out amongst the other news: many of them had decided to change their major. I found it very strange to see so many of my friends returning to campus with a newfound change in the direction that they wanted to take their lives in. It made me start to think about all the people I knew and wonder: how many of them had changed their career paths in the last few months? Let’s just say, those who had stuck with their intended major were in the minority.
It has always troubled me how today’s society expects us to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives by such a young age. For instance, there is no doubt that when applying to colleges, someone who can show a constant passion that they followed through for four years becomes a very strong candidate. Speaking from personal experience, my desire to find a consistent interest led me to choose environmental science as my life’s passion. Under pressure from my parents, my rationale at the time was that I liked nature and so by the transitive property, I should like environmental science. And that was that. For the next four years, that one choice shaped every decision I would later make.
In my sophomore year of high school, instead of applying to the Manhattan District Attorney internship like I wanted to, I forced myself to spend 10 weeks at the Salt Marsh Nature Center building bat houses and creating urban gardens. Instead of taking the senior year elective, “Western Political Theory,” that I had my eye on since freshman year, I signed up for “Urban Ecology.” In fear of not being able to show one constant interest, I gave up the chance to pursue the varying interests I had and wound up sticking with environmentalism for my entire high school career. The one thing that provided me some comfort was college and, specifically, the opportunity it would provide me to truly explore and delve into all my interests. And that’s exactly what I have been doing.
With high school still fresh in my mind, I have been intentionally selfish at the University. Instead of making decisions based on what I think I should be doing for graduate school or my parents, I have been making decisions based on what I want and it has been incredible. However, I have quickly realized that not everyone has the same mindset. Entering college, I was very transparent about my lack of direction. Though I had some idea of the path I wanted to take, things were still very up in the air, and honestly, they still are. When I was meeting dozens of new people throughout the first few weeks, I was so impressed with how confident each of them were in their primary interests. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong. But then, after those initial weeks passed and I really got to know my friends, I realized the truth: there are very few freshmen who actually know what they are doing or what they want, but not many who can admit it.
I have had countless conversations with people who all have had crises over a lack of direction and every time all I have wanted to do was to scream in their face: it’s okay to not know! One of my pre-medicine friends switched to business and another future doctor is considering app design layouts; I wish everyone could realize that there is time to figure out what you truly want to do. I will concede that the looming presence of declaring a major and finishing its prerequisite courses is definitely a legitimate concern. However, hearing yet another of my friends complaining about her solely pre-med guided schedule and the fact that she is unable to take other classes that interest her makes it clear how important it is to experiment a bit.
I know that being undecided can feel scary and like you are losing some sort of lifetime race, but I can assure you that is not the case. If in the beginning of semester icebreakers people revealed how they actually felt about their future, it would be clear that the community of undecided or uncertain undergraduates is much larger than it appears. At the end of the day, the stigma around being undecided is completely unfounded. College is such a unique and special opportunity to finally delve into all the interests you have. Don’t waste it.
Palak Srivastava is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com