Started Undecided Now I’m Here: Finding Journalism as My Passion

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Like many wide-eyed freshmen, I came to college with no set plan. I had no clue about my major, who I would meet or what would become of my four years, but I knew I was in the right place at Penn State, my dream school.

I wandered through freshman year helpless to the uncertainty of what my future held. I fulfilled my gen-ed requirements that year with little interest and picked classes I didn’t actually enjoy. My schedule was a mess—I hadn’t sign up for any of the right courses. I’m still not sure why I registered for an oceanography class. Maybe I subconsciously wanted to make my dream of being a mermaid a reality.

Tired of wasting time, I needed to delve deeper in my potential career choices and avoid another year as an undecided major. After endlessly searching through the online course catalog, I stumbled upon an introductory journalism class. With every spot already taken, I waited hopelessly for someone to drop the class last minute. Luckily a seat emptied, and I snagged the class right away. That’s when I realized I might be headed in the right direction.

If Rory from Gilmore Girls could do the reporter thing, why couldn’t I?

I returned to Happy Valley the next fall excited for what the new semester would bring as I declared my major: journalism. Still, I lacked a well-thought-out plan. I needed to be practical. Changing my major took some convincing as the news industry seemed to falter, but I saw the bigger picture. Journalism offers two elements that I was drawn to: writing and conveying messages in a way that everyone could understand. Learning these skills were essential to enter the communications field.

By spring semester of my sophomore year I took news reporting—my first journalistic writing class—and was apprehensive. At the time, my past writing experiences consisted of analytical and essay writing. Learning about ledes, grafs and quotes was like learning a foreign language. I struggled often and overcame obstacles like memorizing the AP Style book and crafting the perfect lede. Gathering the necessary information to write the ideal story was more difficult than anticipated.

Still unsure of how reporting worked, my professor told my class to read the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, and the New York Times every week to expose us to professional works of journalism. Within just one week, I was hooked. I knew I made the right choice pairing my natural curiosity with my love for writing.

My first reporting assignment, “Man on the Street,” forced me to interview students about the upcoming 46-hour dance marathon, known as THON. At first, my face flushed and my voice shook with every question I asked. Approaching strangers, asking them questions and hoping they’d respond seemed like second nature for experienced reporters. As an amateur, I never thought about the actual process that goes into creating these inspiring stories. With time though, interviews got easier as I slowed my speech and became comfortable recording responses.

My new passion even took me beyond the classroom. I joined on-campus organizations like ED2010—a magazine-industry networking club—and sought a variety of internships at The Reporter, a local newspaper, the Daily Collegian, The Hill in Washington D.C., and now at College Magazine, learning different writing styles and gaining valuable industry experience. Now I can schedule interviews and talk in the most conversational tone with all my sources. Going out and getting that story is slowly becoming second nature to me as well.

I knew I was doing something I loved when waking up and going to class wasn’t a struggle. My feature writing class taught me to creatively tell stories, and reminded me I was in the right place. With each course, I realized I loved writing more and more. I took engaging classes that would actually be applicable to my future. My hidden goal of being a mermaid would have to wait for another time.

Declaring my major opened doors and created a path I never thought possible. I’m not sure where I’ll be once I graduate in a few months, but I know I’ll be doing what I love—and that very notion will measure in great success.

Rachel is a Penn State University senior studying print journalism. She loves John Hughes movies, Audrey Hepburn and all things travel.

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