A few weeks ago I advised high school students not to get too committed to a major--especially a double major. I argued that thinking you have things planned and figured out makes it harder in the long run to change your mind, and people often change their mind once they're involved in their college life.
To give high school students a better idea of what it might look like to change the course of your path, I've invited several people to share their own stories of changing their minds.
Today we hear from Gisele, possibly the most upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic student I ever taught. She's now at Dartmouth. I asked Gisele to tell me about when she changed majors and why she took a gap year to pursue a music project, and her responses surprised me. Plus, she's still considering making some tweaks even after coming to terms with what she wants. Here's what she said:
I originally came to Dartmouth as a potential Arabic major. I became worried that an Arabic major alone would not make me a lot of money out of college, so I switched to Computer Science Engineering. I thought this was a combination of everything lucrative, plus I had a general interest in computers. However I was only familiar with front-end (HTML, CSS) for the most part and not necessarily back-end (Python, Java). To be honest, like a lot of college students, I was worried about the paper chase. My dream has always been to travel around the world and meet different people from different cultures, which I realized would be possible with any major. And thus in the end I decided to go with what I was good at. I decided to become a Spanish major. But before I came to that realization, I went through some tough times.
First, I made a C- in my very first college calculus course towards my future "career in Computer Science" during the fall quarter. It was very tough material and I barely made it through it. I kept pushing myself through because I believed that if I were good with languages, surely I could be good numbers as well. But it just wasn't clicking well.
My winter quarter can be described as the straw that broke the camel's back. I was in the middle of taking my first computer science course when the information became too overwhelming. I failed midterm after midterm and the professor warned me that if I did not drop the course, I was going to fail. I had never failed anything in my life! It was a very scary time. To quickly put how I got off of this predicament, I was granted a medical leave of absence for having a mental breakdown in the middle of my winter quarter. Pretty dramatic, huh? But it was so true! Here I was failing a course that was only the introduction to the major that I wanted to complete so bad in hopes of making a lot of money and making my mom proud. I didn't realize that just completing school alone was making her proud enough.
I started calling my medical leave of absence my "gap year" to avoid uncomfortable talks with friends and family back at home. I went on a creative journey of simply expressing myself with my ukulele and guitar and I even put an album out on iTunes. I called it "Home." I didn't realize how homesick I was until I stayed home for about a year. I then thought that I wanted to be a performing artist, and thus I declared the closest major to the dream: Theater (not Music since Music Theory and Music Performance are two very different things).
I realized that I was a bit lazy with myself. For instance, I did not feel like doing 4 productions throughout my time at Dartmouth. I didn't feel like taking a costume design course. It gave me a bit of anxiety to think that it was something required of me. So I began to think of the easiest major possible (for me) that would heal my GPA. That's when I thought about Spanish. In my first Spanish class that I took at Dartmouth, I made an A+. I truly enjoyed the class and I feel like I contributed something!
I am glad that I made the switch and I feel that I did it for the right reason. Do something that you're good at FIRST, passionate about SECOND (if there's room). I was very passionate about solo performances and music, yet neither the study of Theater or Music at a liberal arts college was going necessarily help me sell better CDs.
I was able to think more about my own dreams and I also hope to someday help students who are struggling to find their passion and to choose the right path. I'd love to be the dean of a college some day or even a college counselor. So now I am considering studying both Spanish and Education while I am in undergrad, because one is something I'm good at the other is something I actually am passionate about.
A lot of Gisele's story are familiar themes for college students, or anyone trying to figure out what they want to do with their life: balancing intellectual interests with the need to earn a living; discerning between what you're good at and what you're passionate about, and understanding that they're not always the same; dealing with unexpected failure; finding emotions playing a big role in practical decisions; needing to find administrative solutions to personal problems. Some people find it comforting that even superstar high school students who get scholarships to Ivy League schools have rough patches like the rest of us. Some find it terrifying. But either way, Gisele's story reminds us of two important truths as you move away from high school and into adulthood: nobody's life goes exactly according to their plans, and everybody gets another chance to change their mind.
Thanks to Gisele for sharing her story with me...and you. Next week I'll have another mind-changing story from a real live college student. Please share this with people who would like to read it.