Hi there! I’m Rebecca, a fifth-year undergraduate student at the University of Windsor. I’ve had a complicated undergrad career; I started out as a double-major in English and French Studies, but I wasn’t happy in that program, so I ended up switching into a double-major in Political Science and French Studies with a minor in English… in my fourth year. I’d had doubts about my program before then, and tried classes in lots of fields–women’s studies, philosophy, different social sciences, etc.–but nothing quite grabbed me, so I sort of just stayed put until the last possible minute.
I finally switched programs, but I don’t think I’ll ever be completely sure I made the right decision, both in terms of switching and in terms of program choice. I have doubts about my current program too, and I seem to have a case of perpetual identity crisis. As such, I’d like to share some personal advice with any first-years who are also struggling with the decision of what major to pick. As a disclaimer, please consult a guidance counsellor or other professional before making any major decisions. I’m just sharing my personal experiences and advice I would give my first-year self if I could go back in time, but it might not be the right advice for you, so please carefully reflect on your own situation, ask for advice from professionals and people you trust, and take what I say with a grain of salt.
For part 1 of this article series, click here.
- You Can Go Back to School Later in Life
Listen, if you go through with whatever your current major is, graduate, get a job, and aren’t totally happy in your field, you always have the option of going back to school and pursuing a different degree later on. We like to think of adulthood as this static, 30-40 year period where we stick to one job and absolutely nothing changes, but it doesn’t have to be this way! Timelines are made-up. There is nothing stopping you from making major career changes halfway through adulthood–hell, you could pivot and change career paths multiple times throughout your life if you wanted to.
If you ask me, there is no such thing as having one “life purpose” or one “destiny”. You have the potential to do multiple things with your life and contribute to society in more than one way, and it’s silly to limit your whole being to one job. So, although picking a major is an important decision, even in the worst-case scenario–which is choosing the wrong one–it still isn’t the end of the world, and you have options after you graduate. Also, remember that you aren’t your job or your major. You’re a person, and it’s capitalism that has made us believe that we should define ourselves solely by our job titles or degrees. We are so much more.
- Be Sensitive and Sensible, Passionate and Pragmatic
Okay, this one is going to be a bit controversial, but I think “following your heart” or choosing a major solely based on what you like is bad advice. Many people would disagree with me, but personally I think it’s important to consider both your passions and the practical side of things when you pick your major. For example, maybe you’re really into ancient Greek and Roman history, but is it really sensible to become a Classical Studies major? How many jobs are really out there for this major, outside of education or research? And how much competition is out there for the limited jobs that are available in this field? Also, consider if you’d need extra schooling and degrees to even get a job in this field.
In terms of arts or other creative majors, I think it’s also important to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have enough talent to succeed as an artist once you graduate. This is harsh, but if you ask me, most of us just aren’t gifted enough to make a living from our art (and being gifted won’t even guarantee success). That isn’t to say that you can’t improve and grow with practice, but a certain degree of natural talent is required to succeed as an artist or a creative, and either you have it or you don’t. And honestly, that’s okay. Why should we have to get a formal education in and make money from our art to be able to call ourselves artists? Because capitalism says so? What is the harm in getting a boring adult job with stable hours and stable pay that will provide us with ample free time to pursue our art on the side? Keeping art as a hobby is underrated, honestly. It’s also important to ask yourself if you actually love practicing a certain art or if you love the idea of it. Do you want to be a writer because your soul yearns for it? So much so that you don’t care if you starve as long as it means you get to keep writing? Or do you have some romantic image in your head about what being a writer is like, and that’s what attracts you to writing? There’s a difference.
And I’m not saying nobody should pursue undergraduate degrees in the humanities or arts (one of my majors is French Studies and I have a minor in English, so it’s not like I follow my own advice), but if you are, I think it’s wise to have specific goals in mind for what you want to do with that degree and to plan accordingly. What career do you have in mind for the future? What will you do during your University career to give yourself an edge over other graduates and increase your chances of landing the career you want? For example, are you going to network to make connections with potential future employers? Are you going to try to find work experience in your field while you’re still in school–perhaps as a teaching assistant or research assistant? Are you going to join clubs related to your major to increase your knowledge and gain new skills? What I’m saying is that passion alone probably won’t get you a job in the humanities, and you need to distinguish yourself from your peers through networking and work experience if you’re really set on studying in this field. If you’re not interested in or willing to do these things, then maybe reconsider your choice of major.
- Consider Skill Sets Over Subject Matter
On a related note, you might not realize how similar some majors are when you take out subject matter from the equation and think of them more in terms of the kinds of skills they teach you. For example, most arts, humanities, and social science degrees, regardless of subject matter, will teach you things like critical thinking, writing and communication, and research skills. I think this is important because it reduces the pressure to pick the “best” major for you. If you’re like me and you like everything but don’t love any one thing, you could probably be reasonably happy pursuing any number of majors. Subject matter might not matter so much as the kind skills you’re after. And given that the kinds of skills arts, humanities, and social science degrees impart are roughly similar, it’s unnecessary to put so much pressure on yourself to try to pick the “perfect” major. It simply doesn’t exist.
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