Changing Your Major: My Story of “Failing Forward”

changing your major

Not knowing what you want to major in can be the scariest feeling in the world — especially if you’ve already passed the halfway point of your college career. You might feel like everyone around you has known exactly what they’re doing since freshman year, while you struggle to figure it out. I know because I’ve been there.

I still don’t know what I want to major in, and I graduated college more than 2 years ago. I switched majors almost every single year, and if I went back and did it over again, I would probably choose something completely different. But I learned a lot from that journey — the main lesson being not to worry about it, because your professional life is a journey.

Before I got to college, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had always been fascinated by television studios, and wanted to be the person behind-the-scenes with the headset and clipboard. So when I got to Penn State, I pursued the Telecommunications track.

But during my time as a telecommunications major, I realized I had zero interest in the business behind television (and to this day I still can’t tell you the difference between cable and network TV.) Since I had always loved writing, I switched to Print Journalism. But I quickly learned that an interest in writing didn’t equal an interest in being a journalist.

At this point, it was the end of my junior year of college. Everyone was doing internships in their major, beefing up their resumes, becoming friends with the people in their classes. Meanwhile, I was distraught and filled with doubt. Over and over I asked myself, When did everyone figure out what they wanted to do? When was I going to? Had I wasted my entire collegiate career? It got so bad that at one point, a professor asked what my major was and I got so choked up I could barely answer her.

“That’s when I found myself sitting in my academic advisor’s office crying, desperate for any guidance on what I could change my major to.”
That’s when I found myself sitting in my academic advisor’s office crying, desperate for any guidance on what I could change my major to. My adviser told me that I only had two options at that point: stay another year, or major in Media Studies. I barely understood what the major was, but I needed a change. I had to take an online class that summer, but when I returned to school senior year I officially changed my major for the third time. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do as a career, but at least I switched out of a major that felt wrong for me.

More than two years have passed since then, and I can tell you that things fall into place. Your major does not necessarily determine your career path. If you’re currently in college, or about to enter college and completely unsure what you want to major in, know this:

  • You are not alone.
    I genuinely thought I was the only person who had no idea what she wanted to major in. All of my friends had kept their same major since freshman year and never changed it. They were all so deadset in their passions that I envied them. But even after graduation, a lot of people I know that chose certain majors are not even working in that exact field. Things change, and life doesn’t follow your diploma.
  • Be honest with yourself.
    I knew I didn’t like the first two majors I chose. Instead of willing them to fit, I admitted to myself that they were not what I wanted. If you spend your college years trying to convince yourself that the major you chose is the right one because it’s easier to stay on that track, you may end up deeply disappointed.
  • Ask for help every step of the way.
    One common theme in my journey is that I was always visiting my academic advisor and discussing my options. Your advising offices are there to support you — take advantage of that! Ask as many questions as you need to, as many times as you need to. They’re there to help you figure things out. I’m still in touch to this day with someone from my career services office from school. They want to see you succeed.
  • Pursue whatever you’re interested in.
    When I got to school, I was convinced I wanted to work in television. That’s why I joined the student-run television station my freshman year. While I didn’t end up pursuing that path, I value the experience and everything it taught me. College is the time to try new things and figure out what your passions are — don’t be afraid to join random clubs or sign up for classes that interest you. Learning that you hate something after trying it is just as valuable as finding a new passion.
  • Your experience determines your employment, not your major.
    If you have internships and volunteer experience in what you actually want to do, that is more powerful than whatever’s printed on your diploma. You can also find ways to connect what knowledge you’ve gained in your major to the roles you want to be in. As an internship manager, when a student applies to our public relations program, it doesn’t matter that their major doesn’t match perfectly. What matters is that they have extracurriculars related to communications, and during the interview they’re able to make connections between their classes and their passion for PR.

So, if you feel as desperate and nervous as I did about choosing the “correct” major — take a deep breath and know that so many have been there before! It might seem like everyone knows exactly what they want to do, but your professional career is a journey, and there’s plenty of time to figure it out.

Erin Ford is a public relations account executive and has been blogging for many years. While attending Penn State, she discovered a love for Women’s Studies, which she found empowering and illuminating, and graduated with a minor in the subject. Since then, she finds fulfillment in speaking up about issues impacting women and girls, and believes that through honest conversations everyone can be empowered to do the same.

One thought on “Changing Your Major: My Story of “Failing Forward”

  1. I agree, we are humans, we get confused, we frustrate and sometimes we need advise. But it is completely OK. Life is a journey to know yourself. It’s better to be calm and find the way.

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