Exploring the Sea of Degrees

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College is a grand opportunity with vast possibilities. You’re like a captain of your own tiny ship, heading out into a sprawling sea alongside thousands of other captains. Some ships know where they’re headed: the seas of science, English Isle, the Pre-med Peninsula. They have their map, compass and sextant all ready to go and are excited for the journey. But what do you do if you’re not one of these captains? What do you do if you find yourself sailing without a destination in mind?

Being undecided is hardly the end of the world. This may be an overused cliché, but you really do have time to decide. Don’t panic. There’s a lot of pressure on students to choose their majors before they enter their freshman year, but that’s ridiculous. Even if your college requires you announce your path before freshman year, you have the ability to change your mind and explore other options. Personally, I was so sick of getting asked the major question, I decided to pick something that sounded impressive enough to please my relatives and myself. I chose astrophysics. Ambitious, I know.

It wasn’t as though I randomly pointed to the Sea of Degrees map and said “That one!” The truth is I genuinely enjoyed astrophysics – everything from black holes to the Big Bang fascinated me. My choice solved the issue of having to say I was undecided and I was also able to register for fall classes. It sounded like a wonderful plan to me.

Well, being the ambitious future astrophysicist that I was, I enrolled in honors calculus and physics. Both of the first semester classes covered material I learned in high school so I thought I’d be fine. Sure it’d be a little more advanced, but I’d still do well and enjoy the classes, right?

Wrong. I struggled hard through calculus and physics and was barely staying afloat on the high C’s. The issue was that I’d mentally locked in to an astrophysics degree. While I hadn’t officially announced my major, it’s what I’d told my family and friends I was going to do and they all agreed it suited me.

Not wanting to fail my relatives or myself, I decided to chalk up my struggles to adjusting to college level classes. I even enrolled in more astrophysics classes for second semester. I’ll tell you a secret, though: My struggles weren’t because of my adjusting. The hurricane of my first semester obstacles looked like a lawn sprinkler compared to the epic storm that was second term. My ship and my dignity were in shambles.

A few weeks into calculus, I realized something. As impressive as an astrophysics major seemed, I didn’t have to impress anyone. The major I chose should be something I loved beyond face value. I thought about what I enjoyed and decided that creative writing – one of my favorite hobbies – could also be my major. I changed course and couldn’t be more happy with the choice. The class materials make sense, I do great in the classes and it feels natural.

Stubbornly tying myself to a ridiculous degree goal for the sake of having a major nearly drowned me. I refused to accept myself as one of the majority of college students who change their majors. Looking back, I wish I’d opened my mind to find a field that truly worked for me earlier and explored the Sea of Degrees.

Michael is a senior studying Creative Writing and Film/Television at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Aside from a passion for writing, film, and television, Michael enjoys his hobbies of cooking and ultimate Frisbee. In the future he hopes to combine his passions for writing and mass media to write reviews and maybe even a screenplay or two.

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