I never knew whether or not to trust the people who said that it didn’t matter what you majored in because odds are, you’d end up doing something unrelated. It always sounded like a cop-out.
But I eventually learned those people were right—for me, at least.
I started college with less than zero ideas of what to study or where I wanted to go in life (nice!). Your college counselor feeds you lies. They say college is the place to explore different subjects and you get plenty of time to pick a major. First of all, no. You basically get three semesters to come up with a semblance of an idea of what you might want to do. By the end of second semester sophomore year, you’ve got to declare. At least that’s how it works at the University of Michigan.
I made some grave mistakes in my course-selecting adventures. I took Physics 107: 20th Century Concepts of Space, Time, and Matter (why?), Intro to Buddhism (again, why?), and Astro 106: Aliens. That last one, I took as a joke. Then I ended up getting a lower grade than my friend who did all of her assignments while intoxicated.
Being indecisive and uncertain is my specialty. Whenever someone asked what I intended to study or what I wanted to do, my response beyond “I don’t know” was simply a list of things I knew I didn’t want to do, like history, hard sciences, business and finance, or really anything in that realm. Art was out of the question due to a lack of ability.
The first major I heavily considered was Cognitive Science. The introductory class was fascinating. Every time it met, I sat in the second row on the edge of my seat. But I psyched myself out of pursuing it. The most logical thing to do with that degree would be research, which sounded very much not like something I’d enjoy. So I bailed. Time continued to pass, and I continued to have no clue where to go.
In an attempt to be Not Another Psych Major, I opted for Sociology. Since it’s a broad major, I could tailor the courses to areas that I found interesting. If nothing else, sociology gave me a lot of freedom in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. It also allowed me to feel I wasn’t closing too many doors.
The realm of subjects I got to learn about through a sociological lens varied from sports to music to crime to the human body. There was even a special topics sociology course called College Hookups. Unfortunately, after I enrolled, the topic switched to race, class and gender inequalities in education (definitely insightful, but not what I signed up for).
Looking back, what I learned in my sociology courses heavily impacted how I looked at the world and the systems and institutions in place, to the point where I’d recommend every college student take at least one sociology course. (From the bottom of my heart, it might do you some good).
In order to put a sociology degree to its intended use, most people continue their sociological education in grad school and go on to do research or become a professor (or both). I had no intention of doing either of those things. The same semester I declared my major, I accidentally fell in love with writing.
I’d taken an English class to fulfill a distribution requirement. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it completely changed my life. I actually enjoyed reading. I learned that writing could be whatever I wanted. It was a nice little fairy tale—except that I’d already declared a major, had none of the prerequisites for an English major and wasn’t interested in English so much as I was interested in writing.
Enter: Sweetland Writing Minor.
Arguably Michigan’s hidden gem, Sweetland was a minor that allowed me to take classes completely focused on writing.
I also ended up picking up an environment minor. The best explanation I have for that is “for the free t-shirt.”
When I said that that English course changed my life, I was not joking. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. Selecting a broad major didn’t help narrow down that thought process. But by the end of that semester, I applied to the writing minor and started thinking about applying to MFA programs for creative nonfiction.
A crippling lack of self-confidence made me think that I’d never get into an MFA program. But at least it gave me a couple of months to say, “I’ve applied to some schools. I’ll reevaluate my life once I hear back.” Both stubborn and uncertain, I only applied to schools in New York City, close to home in Connecticut. I figured that if I didn’t get in anywhere, I’d take a year at home and then apply to places outside New York.
In the end, I applied to three MFA programs and one MA, NYU’s Literary Reportage program in the journalism school. It’s designed to be a mix of an MFA and a journalism program, which sounded incredibly ideal to me. I accidentally set my heart on it from the moment I read the description. Whenever I talked about it, I stressed that it was just a pipe dream. It just felt a little too perfect.
But sometimes the universe does you a solid and grants you admission to a journalism school even though you have no journalism experience.
By the time I graduated, I finished a major and two minors that, combined, were marketable as useful in the real world. And they did a pretty good job of encapsulating my interests. Things mostly just fell into my lap, which is partially why distribution requirements are crucial. They make you explore different subjects, and odds are, you’ll find at least one thing that catches your interest.
Pull at that thread. Or be far more decisive than I am and render this advice obsolete—up to you.