For many students, choosing a college major is one of the hardest decisions they’ve made so far. Societal and family pressure notwithstanding, it’s a harrowing thought to decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life when you’re only 18 years old.
But I didn’t have this problem. I came to GW knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and I immediately set to work achieving my plan. But before I knew it, I was not like many other students again: During my senior year I realized that my major wasn’t something I wanted to pursue academically or professionally.
I felt as if I had wasted my years in college. I spent four years studying equations without ever wondering if there was more that I could be interested in. This feeling had been building within me for a few years, and yet it wasn’t until a few months before Commencement that things crumbled.
Looking back, however, I have learned more from all of my plans crashing down than I would have learned had I continued with the major I chose my freshman year. And other students shouldn’t be scared to change their minds either.
When I graduated high school, I was immediately buffeted by the dreaded question from every adult in my life: “So what is your plan in college?” Being from an Indian-American cultural background, each time someone asked me that question, it intensified. While the American concept of college is to “find yourself,” Indian families consider college a privilege and expect students to immediately choose a career path.
Without really considering it, I told my family I would study economics. My father and grandfather are both theoretical economists, so it seemed like a natural enough answer. And economics seemed practical: I could tell people that I’d have many career options, and I wouldn’t be broke after I graduated. Not to mention, my father and grandfather’s jokes that I could publish a paper with them after college under the authorship “Joshi, Joshi and Joshi.” For a time when I needed an answer other than “I don’t know” to avoid embarrassment, economics fit perfectly.
Then freshman year of college came. I easily passed through my introductory level classes, finding them easy and receiving high marks. My confidence rose. Friends and family applauded me for my discovered affinity for a “practical” major. The next decision appeared even simpler: During my sophomore year, I declared a double major in economics and mathematics. The only requirement I gave myself was that my majors would easily lead me to a job.
But I never asked myself if what I was studying was interesting and fulfilling. My disenchantment with my chosen major slowly hit me. By the start of my junior year, I realized that while I may be good at my theory-intensive courses, I was certainly not passionate about them or intellectually stimulated by them.
I spent those two semesters actively repressing my feelings, believing I had already devoted enough time, energy and resources into my major, and that it was too late to dramatically switch tracks to find my true interests – something many of my peers had done during freshman year.
I felt like I was lost and needed direction for the first time in my life. I sought help from my favorite professor and told him what I hadn’t revealed to anyone else: I had no idea what I liked.
His advice to pursue a field that was applied rather than theoretical gave me hope. I was lucky that I had a support system at GW to figure out my next steps. I spent last semester pinning down my interests based on what I really liked, rather than practicality. By December, after having spent months researching the field, I confidently applied to a master’s program in public policy.
To incoming freshmen – or to anyone at any point in their undergraduate careers – who are now facing the same pressures I did, don’t just choose a major based on practicality or what you think will make your parents happy. Rather than spending four years enjoying your education, you’ll find yourself disengaged and frustrated.
Explore as many disciplines as possible and take a wide range of classes. It sounds cliche, but wait for the “Aha!” moment when you discover something you truly love. And if you ever find yourselves in my situation, always remember that it is never too late to ask for advice and find a new door to open.
Varun Joshi, a senior double-majoring in economics and math, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.