Zach Gonzalez is a second-year journalism major and writes “Glory Days” for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Our first year as legal adults, and we’re forced to make a single choice that affects the rest of our lives.
This is at a time when most of us barely know how to do taxes or manage our own households.
For me, I thought I was going to be an athletic trainer when I was 18 years old. I spent my high school career practicing martial arts and working out at my local gym. Most would say I was just a gym rat, but I thought of it as a tangible career in the field of athletics and physical fitness.
I had something to look forward to, something to pursue that would transfer a hobby of mine into a rewarding occupation.
That was until my career aspirations changed.
What I thought would be a profession I’d love turned out to be the exact opposite, especially after my first semester at Ball State University.
In other words, I found out that being an exercise science major with a concentration in pre-athletic training would be a medical-oriented field. I felt I was going into a role similar to a doctor, which I never wanted to be.
I was shocked when I learned being an athletic trainer primarily consisted of healing individuals from their injuries. A semester later, I changed my major but not for anything even remotely related to the School of Kinesiology.
I switched my major to exploratory studies – which took me all the way back to square one. Such a revelation forced me to reevaluate myself and my future throughout the second half of my first year.
However at this time, I found a new hobby for myself, one where I genuinely felt I could express my authentic self in a way that reflected my own personal identity.
Once I got into college, the insane amount of stress from academics and independence away from my loved ones back home frequently overwhelmed me.
To cope, I journaled pages and pages of genuine heartstrings pouring my sanity into my notebook.
Eventually, it came to my realization that writing was not just a hobby or an extracurricular activity, rather a calling card to a career I spoke of with peak interest when I told my adviser I wanted to switch my major again.
That major was a degree in journalism with a concentration in news writing and reporting. So here I am as a second-year student writing stories for The Ball State Daily News and Ball Bearings Magazine, and I’ve never felt more in control of my future than I do right now.
Now, to say all these transitions throughout my first year were challenging would be an understatement. During my time in exploratory studies, I doubted myself a ridiculously high amount of times.
I compare myself to others a lot, and combined with refusing to give myself grace for simply still needing time to assess my career path, I envied the success my peers had in their respective majors when I didn’t even know my own major.
Heck, switching to journalism wasn’t easy because I still had doubts this wasn’t the right fit for me and that it was more of just an impulsive decision to give myself another degree to work toward.
In fact, I didn’t even join The Daily News or Ball Bearings Magazine until this school year, because I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy my new career plan based on the workload it required through these student-run organizations.
For anyone who’s currently experiencing a struggle of not knowing their place in life, it’s OK not to know yet. I’ve been there before, and I’ve experienced some of the worst it has to offer in terms of self-doubt and anxiety about the future.
No matter how many years a student is taking until they graduate, your time at college is a transitional period toward a career intended to potentially remain lifelong.
In fact, according to Ball State’s website, 50 percent of students switch their majors at least one time between their first year to fourth year. So this idea of changing one’s major is not a foreign concept and is perfectly normal in a college setting.
Feeling content with our degree matters more than the amount of credits we need to obtain it or however many years it’ll require. I know this is a phrase many have heard time and time again, but the satisfaction of our desired profession matters more than the profit it makes.
Pursuing a degree is never easy and has plenty of dreadful moments where stress feels at an all-time high, but it should be enjoyable enough where we feel confident the classes we take fit the field we happily envision ourselves going into.
Sure, some might prioritize the salary over the satisfaction, and if that description sound’s like you, then that’s perfectly fine.
But I know where I stand.
I’d much rather take a few years of my life figuring out a career than suffer working at a job I hate.
Now, the cons of changing majors are the extra tuition and miscellaneous costs a student must pay by attending a university an extra year. This is why it’s much better to get a head start if you have any uncertainty on your major, and make those potentially necessary transitions as soon as possible.
Ball State’s advising handbook offers students the initiative to have a second plan in place, which is referred to as a parallel plan. This plan is structured for when a first-year student desires to switch their major for any reason.
The university acknowledges it’s possible many first-year students might have lingering thoughts in the back of their head on whether or not their degree choice is right for them.
But even so, not everyone’s case is the same, and it’s possible, for example, a student changes their major during their third year in college.
While there’s an advantage to changing your major sooner rather than later — as switching during your third or fourth year risks an extra year to take and more tuition to pay — it’s not the end of the world. The time you spend in college determines the outcome of the rest of your life, and your college years are much smaller in comparison to those after higher education.
According to a survey from BestColleges about the personal significance of the degrees of numerous college graduates across the United States, 61 percent said they’d change their majors if they had the chance to go back to college. 26 percent said they’d change majors in order to follow their dreams.
In fact, changing majors multiple times is not out of the ordinary. According to a survey from the Department of Education consisting of undergraduate students during their first three years of higher education, 1 in 10 students switched their majors more than once.
College is a process of figuring out who you are and expanding your identity and personality. It doesn’t matter who you are; you probably won’t graduate from college the same person you were when you started college. If that involves switching some career goals around, that’s absolutely acceptable.
While you’re still in college, make sure you know your genuine passion, and take the time to analyze the reasonability of whether or not the major you’re in will fit that passion.
If that’s unclear to you, then know you’re not alone. There’s several resources available to you to help out.
Based on academic advice courtesy through Ball State’s website, speaking to anyone in an academic department you might be interested in, joining a student organization that relates to your current major to see if you view yourself doing this type of work in the future or taking tests, such as the Counseling Center Career Assessment, to determine majors and careers that best suite you can be helpful.
All of these resources help students explore potential career paths they might be interested in and could take.
For me personally, I know this advice might seem a little obvious, but each resource I just mentioned either persuaded me to go into journalism or kept me confident in the decision I made.
Looking back, a huge benefit I realized about being in exploratory studies was the amount of self-exploration I got to do. Because when you have an undecided major, you have to really dive into who you are and what type of jobs best suit you.
Given I already had exposure to an environment that didn’t work well with me in kinesiology, along with knowledge I learned about myself based on some university-provided career resources, I had a more clear idea of ideal work environments for me.
If change requires making a couple of adjustments to your academic calendar, then no worries. Numerous other students have made such decisions and graduated with no problem. Employers value the major that’s on your degree, not the number of years it took to receive it.
In fact, it doesn’t even mention the number of semesters or school years one spent pursuing a degree.
As long as you understand what you want from a job, and that’s what you’re pursuing, you’re free to spend whatever your academic dreams desire during college, for however long it’ll take you.
Contact Zach Gonzalez with comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachg25876998