I've Second Guessed my College Choice and it's Normal


I have always known that I wanted to be a journalist, and all through high school I never felt there was a certain college that I just had to go to unlike some of the people I went to school with. I thought that I would look around at several colleges that had a journalism program in some capacity, whether it was to the extreme of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University or even just a minor at UNC Wilmington (UNCW). 

When it came down to my final decision, which was impacted by family, money and the admissions process, I chose to attend UNCW as a Communication Studies major and Journalism minor. As a soon-to-be graduate, I have done a lot of thinking, especially overthinking, about my level of happiness at UNCW and within these two academic programs. 

My former communication theory professor would say I am and have experienced cognitive dissonance theory (CDT).  

According to “Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application”, cognitive dissonance is, “the feeling people have when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” Meanwhile, CDT “argues that dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling that motivates people to take steps to reduce it.”

Throughout my time at UNCW and deciding to major in Communication Studies and minor in Journalism, I have felt dissonance regarding second-guessing if I made the right decision in not attending a university with an actual journalism school/major. One assumption of CDT is that dissonance is created by psychological inconsistencies. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to attend a college with a school of journalism, but I ended up choosing a university that only offered a journalism minor. I thought one way and acted another, which created dissonance in this aspect of my life.    

Throughout my decision to choose a college I had to factor in many different things like location, money, major and minors, campus life and appeal, etc… and looking back and overthinking my decision the factors of offered majors and minors appear at the forefront. 

white long sleeve shirt sitting on grass Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

I felt there was a greater discrepancy between the number of journalism schools I could have chosen in my decision process and the actual number of universities I applied to with larger journalism programs. This discrepancy created tension in my decision process which still affects me and causes me to overthink if I made the right decision in college.

Four years after making this decision I have felt dissonance as I weighed the pros and cons of the choice I made in where to attend college in addition to the pros and cons of the choices of colleges I chose not to attend. 

According to a paper by Sunwolf in 2006, further complications about the decision-making challenge come immediately after making a decision. 

“People have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects about the choice made, as well as the positive aspects of the choice rejected. In order to reduce dissonance and feel better about a decision, people may enhance the attractiveness of the chosen alternative, while devaluing the rejected alternatives.” 

For me, the negative aspects of UNCW included the university not having a school of journalism or major, not loving the way the Communication Studies department is structured regarding pursuing a career in journalism, and how they have handled major issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, among other things. 

The more dissonance and uncomfortableness I felt from my decision to attend UNCW, the more I tried to reduce those feelings by thinking about all the positives about attending UNCW. 

For instance, the location and proximity to the beach, all the money I have saved and how I can still get a job in the journalism industry without having gone to a university with a journalism school.

Unsplash / Nathan Dumlao

Additional strategies I resorted to reducing dissonance include reducing the importance of the cognitions (the belief that universities with journalism schools offer better education) and seeking out new and more consonant information (several UNCW journalism minor students have gone on to still have careers in journalism). 

Another aspect of looking at CDT and the dissonance created from the second-guessing of my decision to attend UNCW is by looking at the influences and modes of persuasion that affected my initial decision and post-decisional regret. 

People I knew who attended and liked UNCW tried to persuade me to attend UNCW by sharing information I found consonant with my life at the time of making my college decision. 

By seeking out and listening to the persuasions of these people I was trying to reduce the dissonance I felt when weighing my options of colleges I could attend. I avoided dissonance while making this decision by “engaging in consonant information” which meant listening to all the people around me, persuading me to attend UNCW and major in Communication Studies.

After the fact of making this decision, dissonance was created by thinking I would be happier at a larger journalism university like the University of Georgia (UGA). I was persuaded by the fact that my boyfriend lives in Georgia and that UGA actually has a school of journalism, and appears to have much better resources than UNCW. So I began to question whether I chose UNCW just because the people around me wanted me to go here. 


I continue to try to decrease the dissonance by continuing to seek out those people again and trying to reassure myself by looking back on all the consonant information that persuaded me to choose UNCW and a Communication Studies degree. 

Four years later and I still find myself wondering if I made the right choice to attend UNCW. Don’t get me wrong I have a great education and some fun memories, but there are still times when thoughts of dissonance creep in my head and make me start to second-guess myself. 

Communication theories can be applied to most if not all situations in our lives, even something as simple or in my case not so simple as deciding where to attend college. By analyzing and looking at major life decisions like our decisions to attend college through the lens of communication theories, we can begin to better understand ourselves and hopefully be more confident in future decisions and why we made certain decisions in the first place. 

However you celebrate Galentine's Day, don't forget to hug your family and friends and remind them how much you love them! :)