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Mar 17 2017
by A. T. Thomas

My Struggle With Finding A Major After I Thought I Knew What I Wanted

By A. T. Thomas - Mar 17 2017

At some point in your life, you've probably been asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The first time I was asked this was when I was five years old and I said I wanted to be a firefighter. I even dressed up as a firefighter for Halloween that year. Of course, I had the BEST costume in my entire kindergarten class, due to the 10-foot water hose I dragged around school all day (my dad wanted the costume to be "realistic"). I wanted to be a firefighter so that I could help people. Three years later, I dressed up as a doctor for Halloween with a stethoscope, white coat and the whole nine (this time my mom was the realistic one). So I decided that at eight years old, I wanted to be a doctor for the same reason I had wanted to be a firefighter  — so I could help people. It wasn't until age 13 that I found out that there were different types of doctors. I thought my doctor, a pediatrician, was the only kind. Through a little research and talks with family, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be an anesthesiologist.

During my junior year of high school, my AP Bio class took a field trip to the Museum of Science & Industry in Downtown Chicago to watch a triple bypass surgery. The surgical team Skyped in and allowed us to watch the majority of the procedure. We talked to the PAs, the lead surgeon, the guy running the centrifuge and the anesthesiologist. 

We got the most interaction with the anesthesiologist due to the amount of free time she had during the procedure. She told us how many years of schooling she completed, how many degrees she had and what a typical day in her life looked like — none of which sounded appealing to me. I knew I didn't want to be in school that long, wasn't looking to earn a ton of degrees and didn't care for the amount of free time she had per surgery. Since I value being happy with a career over how much it pays, I scratched the idea of being an anesthesiologist. The problem was that now I had to figure out what kind of doctor I really wanted to be. I started with a list of every body part I didn't like, so I could rule out that field of study. The list only had one thing on it — feet. Well, at least I could scratch one thing off of the list.  

The first semester of my senior year, I took a psychology class and fell in love with the study of how the brain works. Before the semester ended, I knew I wanted to be the type of doctor that dealt with the brain, whatever that meant.

I set my focus on neuroscience. I thought about those I knew that majored in psych and knew I didn't want to be a counselor or therapist. I didn't want to be a psychologist, and besides, neuroscience just sounds better, right?

During my college search, I tried to only apply to schools that had neuroscience as a major and/or something similar. In early December, I had been accepted into my second favorite school — Connecticut College. I had done my research and noticed how strong its neuroscience department was. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I'd major in neuroscience, graduate, go to medical school, graduate, officially be called "Dr. Thomas" and find the cure to Alzheimer's Disease. Boom, that was it. As a planner, it felt great to have the next 10-12 years of my life already figured out. 

To those that asked what my intended major was, I was able to tell them what I planned to do with it and the career opportunities for someone in the field. Everything felt right. 

I excitedly signed up for courses a few days after my college orientation. I talked to upperclassmen who were neuroscience majors and they told me to take cell biology and general chemistry concurrently, especially since I was on the pre-med track. They told me that it was a challenge, but assured me that it was more than manageable. I had no worries that I could do it. My schedule consisted of cell biology, general chemistry, neuroanatomy and Chinese philosophy. That's doable, right?

Well, it was doable but I didn't like it. I had a love/hate relationship with biology already after struggling with it at the AP level in high school. I thought I loved chemistry and even considered it as a major, only to soon realize that I only thought I liked it because it was an easy subject for me to grasp. Philosophy, although interesting, was not my thing. My neuroanatomy class, though, was intriguing and I loved it. I later looked at the major requirements for neuroscience to get an idea of what courses I would have to take in the years to come and wasn't excited. I talked to people who were in a few of the classes and asked them for honest feedback. They all said getting over the hump of general requirements for the major was the hardest part and that you really didn't get into taking subject-related classes until junior year. I started to think that neuroscience wasn't what I actually wanted to do. 

I was at a crossroads. What was I gonna do now? I thought I had it all figured out. I told everyone what I was going to major in and what I would do with the degree. I thought I loved neuroscience. I knew I loved it. I was wrong though — I had only thought I loved it. So now what? 

I told my parents, who both said they weren't surprised, and they encouraged me to just finish strong with the courses I was taking. A few days later, I talked with my career adviser. I told her how I was freaking out because I was considering changing my path. She assured me that there was no need to "have it all figured out," especially not in my first semester. She told me how common it is for a person to change majors before or even after declaring, and how a person's major sometimes has nothing to do with his/her career. She suggested that I relax and just take more new courses to find out if I had a genuine interest in a certain field or subject. Honestly, it wasn't until the end of my first semester that I realized there was no reason for me to freak out. 

In my second semester of college, I decided to take courses on the psychology major path. I think that's what I want to major in, but am still unsure. At this point, it's up in the air, but I'm okay with that. I'm not worried about it anymore. 

Currently, I'm taking a psych class, an acting, photography and an architecture class. To be quite honest, I'm a lot happier with the courses I'm in now and am just taking it one day at a time, enjoying course that are parallel with my passions. Time will have to tell the path these courses lead me on, and whatever the path may be, I'm ready for it. 

My advice: your freshman year of college is for discovery and transitioning. Lots of things change, like passions and habits. Sometimes, you even think you know what you want to do later in life. If you're taking courses geared towards what you like and you love them, keep going. If not (or you're completely undecided), don't freak out because it's okay. Maybe take an anthropology class or try diving into a new language. See what you like and what you don't. You WILL find something you love (I promise), and when it happens, follow the discovery.

Lead Image Credit: Pixabay 

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A. T. Thomas - Connecticut College

Introvert, photographer. From the suburbs of Chicago. I love The Office and short walks on the beach.

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