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How to Deal With Outside Criticism of Your Major and College Plan

When I first got to Seattle, overly ambitious to get a taste of everything I had missed at a high school with a limited scope, I was certain that I was going to major in environmental studies and save the world from impending doom, but was discouraged when a family member told me that it was a “fake” degree. When I switched to psychology, I was told that I couldn’t apply that to the real world. In early childhood and family studies, it was, “Oh, so you don’t care about making money.” And then, when I recently was accepted into the Public Health—Global Health major, and texted close family members to share the good news, I got a text back that read “Good luck finding a job."

I will admit that I’ve probably changed majors more than the average person, so when I finally found a program that I wanted to stick with, that last comment was a bit of a setback, even though I was well-aware that it shouldn’t have that power. These family members and the occasional friends definitely mean well, and will argue that they’re “just looking out for you” in the long run. However, as these comments loom in the back of my head and swirl around in my subconscious, they’ve led me to have a few nights in my undergraduate career so far where, when browsing through courses for next quarter or perhaps loosely planning out my future life in my head at 3 am, I ask myself if I should take their words to heart. I write out plan B, then C, and then Z in my notebook, along with the questions, “Should I suffer through a major I’m not interested in, in order to ‘buy’ happiness later on in my career? Would this financial safety net make me happier down the road?”

There are a lot of things you learn how to do in college and on your own for the first time—how to properly do your laundry, how to wake up on time for 8:30 a.m. classes, and maybe how to cook a dinner for yourself that doesn’t consist of Ritz crackers and iced coffee. And then, of course, there are the more important things that take a greater level of social and emotional competence, such as figuring out who you are, what you value in other people, and what you hope to work on for the benefit of future you. However, there is also the seemingly forgotten lesson that you need to know—it is not your job to live for anybody else, and to shine a light on somebody else’s desires, while engaging in the education you’ve worked hard for. This isn’t something that’s going to be taught to you in a 101 class as part of any curriculum, but it’s something that you should take with you out of your college experience, hopefully sooner rather than later.

[bf_image id="wkk6sp6r4jvbhk9jt3jx33r"] That said, I know that confidence in the face of criticism of your chosen career path, whether that be from family, friends, or even people you meet for just a few seconds, is much easier said than done. I can constantly pump myself up in my head by sassily rehearsing the need for my career field in the world, how much I enjoy it, and every statistic I can name in retaliation, but in the actual face of a critic of your life choices, it can be difficult. The important thing to note here is, whatever argument you’ve come up with to justify to yourself that your career path is right for you, remember it. Repeat it to yourself. Know that if it feels like the right place you’re supposed to be, your opinion is the only one that counts when you consider what values are important to you in a career. 

I repeat, it is not your job emotionally, as a person who’s spent countless hours on the continuous past, present, and future hard work it takes to make it to where you are, to do something that your family prefers as a field of interest. Your motivations have more depth than just a page-long cover letter and a picture-perfect LinkedIn profile.

This admittedly can be a challenge at any school that tends to obviously and vastly value certain academic disciplines over others, which is why in order to truly gain the most out of your quick college years, regardless of major or discipline, above all, you’ll need to be your own best friend. And by that, I definitely don’t mean to cut anybody out of your life who may be skeptical of your choices—rather, in order to support yourself in the face of adversity, either from others or maybe from yourself on the bad days, I’d encourage you to remember that you’re meant to be where you are, on your current path. It means supporting yourself through the thick and thin of your journey (even if it looks different than what you were envisioning just yesterday), re-evaluating your decisions, and don’t forget, calling yourself out on your sh*t if it’s proving to not get you anywhere. Hopefully, you’ll learn that it’s all part of the process of being independent and going with life’s flow instead of resisting it. 

Hailey Hummel

Washington '23

Hailey is a current senior at the University of Washington, majoring in Public Health—Global Health (with departmental honors), and minoring in Law, Societies, and Justice. She loves hiking, traveling around the state of Washington and the world, making art, playing piano, taking pictures, and spending time with her friends.
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