I returned to Ann Arbor a changed student. Yes, I’m a year older, a year wiser and all the other philosophical wisdom people mutter about. But most importantly, I came back to campus with a clear idea of where I want to be and what I want to do.

For those of you silently judging the fact that I’m an undeclared junior, pardon me. But unfortunately, I was in the ranks of freshmen that come through the University’s doors with a cookie-cutter plan and a declared concentration.

The first year of college as an undeclared student is a breeze. People ask what you’re studying, you reply you’re undecided. They quickly take pity, “don’t worry — you still have so much time.” Well, let me tell you a secret I’ve learned since then: They’re wrong. Your collegiate years do indeed fly by. My freshmen year ended, then my sophomore year and before I knew it, I was lost in the “undecided, pre-med, possibly pre-health” shuffle that all too many students seem to find themselves in.

If there’s any sort of wisdom I can pass on to incoming freshmen and those still-undecided sophomores out there, it’s this: Explore all that our college has to offer you. Whether it’s that crazy first-year seminar about aliens or Economics 101, move beyond your comfort zone. How are you supposed to know you love cultural anthropology if you never take an intro course? Or that your true passion lies in public policy, but you’ve only taken science courses?

Outside influence — whether from family, friends or close mentors — places immense pressure on decisions about concentrations and future career paths. Decisions that not only shape your entire undergraduate experience, but affect the opportunities you’ll encounter years from now and the person you’ll ultimately become.

It’s extremely important to not only take a step back and think about yourself and what truly inspires you, but also to take into consideration your own individual goals and hopes. Too often, we get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday campus life. Running to classes, cramming for exams and attempting to maintain some sort of social life doesn’t exactly leave time for self-reflection.

Not to mention that future financial success, a well-respected career and job security are important factors constantly on our minds. Especially today, when our nation’s economy continues down a dangerous path and the post-graduate employment rate is worse than ever, with 58 percent of recent graduates either unemployed or underemployed.

The economic environment we’re currently facing is most likely one of the main reasons that more than half of all undergraduates are declaring concentrations in business, engineering or nursing, according to U.S Department of Education statistics. There’s nothing wrong with these majors if it’s truly what you feel passionate about and want to pursue. But as young, determined Michigan students with a variety of skills and talents, we shouldn’t feel restricted to a pre-professional major just because it promises a specific career upon graduation.

Why take advice from a complete stranger who’s both undeclared and already entering her third year of college? It may seem like the blind leading the blind. But honestly, if there is one thing I wish I would have known coming here two years ago, it’s this.

Discover what truly inspires you, take courses that excite you and realize you’ve only scratched the surface of academia. If you don’t take advantage of all the opportunities thrust your way an undergraduate student, then when exactly do you plan on discovering your passion and niche in the world?

Clearly, I took the roundabout way of getting to where am I now, but if it weren’t for my missteps over the past two years, I’d still be in the same undeclared, topsy-turvy mess I found myself waiting in a year ago. The eclectic courses I took, my work at The Michigan Daily and my recent experience working on a U.S. Senate campaign have helped shaped me as an individual and have paved a road towards a future I’m excited about and willing to work for.

So here’s to you guys — the helplessly lost, continuously wandering, undeclared students of LSA. Don’t lose hope, ignore outside pressures and never lose sight of finding what truly inspires you.

Sarah Skaluba can be reached at sskaluba@umich.edu.

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