Everyone has heard the statistic that about 80 percent of college students change majors at least once during their college careers. But even with the odds stacked against me, I never thought it would happen in my life. I thought I was smart enough to know what I wanted to do before I went into college. I quickly learned that there is no shame in being a part of that 80 percent, and that that change is almost inevitable.
I entered my freshman year almost certain that I wanted to major in philosophy and theology, two of Notre Dame’s strongest programs. I spent a lot of free time in my senior year listening to theology lectures online, taking extensive notes during the sermons at my church and even writing blog entries on the subjects. I knew I was gifted with great academic talents, and I figured that devoting them to theology would be the best way to honor God for giving them to me. Plus, I just really enjoyed studying such abstract ideas like human thought, God and other religions outside of Christianity. It was exciting for me.
I entered my first theology class with relatively high expectations. I thought I was going to have all of the answers and be excited to read and do the necessary work for the class. I went through the first two weeks of the class with this passionate, somewhat naïve attitude, but that all changed when our first test came around.
I thought I did well on the test immediately afterward, but when I got my grade back everything changed. I got a C+ on the test.
For someone who skated through high school with little to no academic obstacles, taking that first test was the equivalent of stepping into a World Cup soccer match when I hadn’t played soccer in 10 years, and relying on a good performance to provide me with a foundation for my life. It just wasn’t going to work, plain and simple.
I knew I was going to encounter struggles and failure while stepping up my academic work level, but I always figured that would happen in either my math or science classes. I never dreamed that the worst grade I’d ever received would be in the subject I wanted to pursue the most.
Maybe I wasn’t as passionate about theology as I had anticipated earlier; maybe it was simply a phase of excitement and newness. I attended public school for my entire life, so I had never encountered these interests in such a rigid academic setting. If it was a true priority, then I would have no problem doing more work, but after failing the test, I lost the motivation that had driven me forward for the past year.
I didn’t know how to deal with this type of failure at first. As someone from a safe Midwestern suburb with two parents and a large group of friends, my life has been relatively easy. A re-evaluation of this magnitude was a foreign experience for me.
Instinctively, the first thing I did to try and handle the situation was to deny my loss of interest and push through it. Studying extensively improved my grades, but it didn’t improve my loss of enthusiasm for the subject I once loved. I continued to lose my passion, and continuing to pursue something without any sense of devotion is just about always a bad idea.
I knew what I had to do: I had to reevaluate my major, ambitions, and priorities. I reminisced back to my high school career, and tried to identify an academic subject I truly enjoyed. I never had too much enthusiasm for any one of the traditional subjects, but I loved my high school broadcasting class more than anything I did in my previous 13 years of school.
After delving into the list of majors at Notre Dame, I came across the American studies major. The major seemed like the right program for me: interdisciplinary, small, entertaining, and loved by every current major I could find.
After a period of discernment, I finally chose to take a new path as an American studies major. I’m anticipating my first few classes within the major, but if my theology experience taught me anything, it’s that I should never place all of my hopes and dreams into one plan for my life. Interests and passions can change in an instant, and when those changes occur, re-evaluation is necessary. It’s frightening and challenging at first, but opens the door to a whole new world of new opportunities.