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Undeclared Major-Good for You!

It never smacked me over the head. It certainly was not a straight line. You’ll try to make a roadmap in college toward a major, which you think will lay a foundation for a graduate education and/or career. This is not as easy or straightforward as you may think. Allow yourself to thoughtfully explore options since you’ve been given this gift of exploration in college. Maybe you are in the minority and know what you will declare as a major before you even start college. But, is that even the best thing? Will this narrow your education? And, if you figure out that this major is not for you, how many missed opportunities for expanding upon your education had you squandered? Is it too late when you finally figure out what floats your boat? NEVER!

For as far back as I could remember, I was interested in talking to people, offering advice and seeing what made them tick, so I jumped to a psychology major my freshman year of college. My mistake was that I got focused way too early, which seemed like a good thing at the time, but was really quite the opposite. AND…since I enjoyed the study of psychology that must have meant that I wanted to be a clinical psychologist-right? Not necessarily, but that seemed to be a no-brainer jump I made. I went to my college career counselor with my major in psychology and she told me what any academic would say who is entrenched in this academic business. “Go get a Ph.D, she said.” After all, this would be necessary if I wanted to teach and/or do research at an academic institution.

But, without giving myself a breather to think about what that career looked like or even shadow a psychologist, I jumped straight into graduate school right after college. I was used to the academic challenges. After all, I had been a student most of my life. But the rub came when I started to learn how and what it took to be a clinician. When I began to see clients. I was surprised to see that I didn’t like it. It was depressing and draining. I couldn’t distance enough so I could leave my work at the office. Now… what was I to do after spending all this time and money in an education preparing me for a career I wouldn’t like? At this point in my personal and academic development, I knew myself better and was able to make a more informed decision. I transferred to a different psychology program that looked at issues on a less personal, broader perspective focusing on proactive strategies in communities and businesses. This was more up my alley. I’ve got this so I thought.

But, again, surprise, surprise! One day, a speaker came to talk to our entire doctorate psychology program. He went around the room of approximately 24 seemingly very confident, driven and focused people, asking us about our career plans. After everyone was finished talking about their concrete plans, he stunned us with his response. “Most of the people in this room won’t be doing what they think they’ll be doing.” I was unconvinced by his statement. Yet, years later how true his statement rang!

Contrary to a way too common opinion, I am gratified when I hear that a high school student will enter college with an undeclared major-the most common major going into college! I get worried when someone tells me that they want to be an engineer because, as I’ve heard too many times, they like math. I ask if they’ve ever shadowed an engineer and the typical answer is no. Another popular rationale for a client to choose a law career is that they “like to argue.” College is filled with great opportunities academically and personally. Take advantage of this gift. Eyes wide open!


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