Like I did as a second semester junior nearly a year ago, you might have just realized that majoring in biology isn’t for you. You liked science in elementary school and aced your honors biology course in high school, so naturally you planned on a career as a doctor curing cancer, healing children, and saving lives in the dramatic world that is Grey’s Anatomy. You waltzed into the advisor’s office full of pride and declared your major your first semester at university. They set you on a course for success, full of biochemistry, calculus, organic chemistry, and physics. It was tough, riddled with tearful late-night phone calls to Mom around exam week that made her seriously worry about your sanity. But you stuck it out.
Until something happened to you, unexpectedly, violently, like a bolt of lightning that zapped you clean out of your major and spinning off into the abyss of ambiguity. You realized you were miserable. You were miserable spending endless agonizing hours memorizing each intimate enzymatic step of the Krebs cycle in desperate prayer that you’d pass your cell biology test. You were miserable spending two hours and then some trying to figure out the different pathways to turn a ketone into an alcohol. It was interesting. But you were miserable.
Except when you were reading Wordsworth and Coleridge in the classroom. Except when you were easily writing five page papers analyzing the relationship between Frankenstein and his monster, or the archetype of chivalric romance in Medieval poetry.
When you begin to realize, only 18 months from graduation, that you need to switch majors, lots of thoughts that have the same mass as a tractor trailer are going to hit you all at once. From someone who knows, here’s a list of steps that hopefully helps walk you through the process.
- Don’t panic. It’s the first thing you do when you start to look back and think that this whole journey down the college express lane has been for nothing. So many classes you won’t be able to use, so much time and money wasted, should you even bother switching? Breathe. Just breathe. Remember that there is no such thing as wasting time and money on education. Everything you have learned up to this point has shaped you into who you are today; you know yourself and the world around you that much better. Also, speaking practically, those classes that you think are now “useless” toward your degree are incredibly valuable. Listing them on a resume will make you stand out from the crowd because a potential employer will instantly associate them with various skills otherwise absent from the usual pool of candidates.
- Think about it. Why are you switching? Is it just because of that one class? That one professor? Do you usually enjoy the classes within the major you’re taking? Take the time to reflect on what’s making you switch from one to the other, if nothing else just to reassure yourself that you’re making the right decision. Yes, I really am miserable laboring over my mechanical engineering classes all day. Yes, I really do hate writing papers analyzing the heck out of Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” soliloquy. And chances are, if you’re considering switching, you’ve already thought long and hard about this.
- Talk about it. A relative. A professor. A friend. A career counselor. Bouncing ideas off other people always makes them more tangible and realistic; this isn’t just a passing thought that’s rattling around in your head. You’re actually doing this. Often another person can offer invaluable insight from an outsider’s perspective, for instance, whether they’ve noticed that you really are strained working at your major, and they can give you advice. If it’s a post-graduate career you’re worried about, just remember that you can do a lot more with your major (or the major you’re considering) than you think. Mitt Romney majored in English. Conan O’Brien majored in History and American Lit. Jon Stewart majored in Psychology. And other “useless” majors from some of the world’s most successful people.
- It’s going to be okay. I know someone who spent 6 years on a Bachelor’s in Geology. She worked with an oil-drilling company for almost 20 years before she was laid-off when the recession hit bottom in 2008. She has now worked as a 911 dispatcher for over 5 years, has stopped countless crimes, saved several lives, and delivered a baby over the phone. She couldn’t be happier. Life has a way of settling us where we are meant to be. So go for it. Switch that major and do what you love. The rest will follow.