It sucks to keep pretending you actually like psychology and dream of becoming a world-renowned celebrity psychiatrist when you can’t motivate yourself to go to your 9 a.m. Psych 101 lecture. Plus, you can’t seem to get an exam grade above a C. The idea of totally starting over sounds scary and impossible. Need to know how to deal with changing your plan? We’ve got your back.
Use Your Gen-Eds
Don’t try to treat your gen-ed requirements as something you must suffer through. Instead they can help you decide what you want to do and don’t want to do. “Historically, the aim of General Education programs has been to introduce students to a wide range of academic disciplines prior to their focusing on their major,” American University Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Peter Starr said.
Try to pick gen-eds that interest you, even if they’re not in the same field as your intended major, or something you never thought you could enjoy. Who knows? Your seemingly boring Meaning and Purpose of Art class might surprise you.
Know Your Strengths
“I came to AU as to a political science and finance major because I thought that majoring in business would make me money and it would be good to balance out the political science, where I wasn’t entirely clear on my job opportunities,” American University political science and marketing major Dante Bucci said. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this mentality, it’s okay to think about your post-college job opportunities when you pick a major, but remember what you’re good at and what you enjoy.
After Bucci realized how hard accounting and finance actually are, he switched to marketing, which made him much happier. “Marketing is very conceptual, very literal. It makes much more sense to me than complex ideas combined with equally complex math, like in accounting and finance,” Bucci said. Although you’re not sure you’ll like something, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the class.
If you come in with an extremely structured plan, you’ll feel disappointed if you don’t get the exact classes you need or don’t land the internship you want. Take some time to decide which broad academic areas interest you before committing to a major and career path.
“After having great experiences with professors in the government department, I took an upper level government class and made the switch [from interdisciplinary CLEG—communications, law, economics, government to political science],” AU political science and economics major Matt Wilson said. “The political economy topics of the government classes led me to take some upper level government classes, which led me to take some economics classes and eventually pick up the major.”
Spend your first couple of years taking classes that interest you within the area you find appealing. Take classes with professors you like and classes about more specific topics you like before you settle down. Above all, make sure to settle down, not settle for something random.
Put Those Skills to Work
You can’t decide if you like the field you picked if you don’t work in it. Like gen-eds, pick internships, jobs and volunteer opportunities that are out of your comfort zone or out of your initial major but still interest you. Internships and jobs can help reaffirm your plan or they can be a big sign telling you to change it. “I always knew I wanted to work in politics in some capacity, and I got this internship at a consulting firm with a lot of old Obama people who did communications, digital and a lot of other things for campaigns and companies,” American University junior political science major Monica Patel said.
If you know the area you want to eventually work in, work all sorts of internships within that field to figure out what fits you the most. You may find that different things interest you more than what you initially thought. “I went in thinking I was more interested in traditional communications work, but then I was exposed to different work in digital while I was there and I realized I wanted to do digital media work for campaigns more than anything.”
Try To Be Flexible
Sometimes things get messed up—you don’t get the classes you need, you find that you don’t like your major after interning in the field or you may have to stay another semester to finish your degree. All of these things can feel frustrating, and you might start to feel lost.
Holyoke Community College secondary education and English major, Natalie Richards, faced the same problem. After testing into a lower prerequisite than she initially anticipated, and having a necessary class canceled at the last minute, her only option was to stay at HCC another year before transferring, effectively throwing a wrench in her carefully-crafted plan.
“Despite the initial setback, I’ve realized there are actually a lot of benefits to attending school an extra year,” she said. “I’ve decided to run for President of the Student Senate and am splitting up the last four classes I have to take over a span of two semesters, so I can devote more time and attention to them, rather than jamming them all into one and taking the spring semester off.”
While spending another year at school or taking a semester off may feel like a setback, if you approach it as something that can improve your education or work experience instead of something that hinders it, you’ll have a much better experience.
Don’t be afraid to change your major, pick up a second major or minor or apply for internships in your field of interest. In rare cases, don’t shy away from staying in school a little longer. “I wouldn’t say my plan has changed due to that, but because of the extra time I’ve had to think about and prepare for the future,” Richards said. “The courses I’ve taken during my time at HCC have also impacted my plans. Taking an Art History class made me realize how much I love it and would like to work in a field encompassing Art History, like Museum Studies. Meanwhile, participating in a Linguistics class made me rethink the plans I’ve had since high school. Who knows what else I’ll think of or decide to change in this extra year!”
Nobody says you need to figure everything out at 18, so try to remember that you can fix your high school self’s plan if it stops working.