Photo By: Romina BM from Unsplash
In high school, deciding what you want to study at university feels like a big, life-altering decision. The way teachers and guidance counselors talked about it made it seem like this one choice was going to decide what direction the rest of your life was going to go in. People put a lot of thought into deciding what to study at university. There’s research, time and a lot of money that goes into making that decision. For good reason, it’s a big one.
That’s why it can be terrifying and even paralyzing when you do finally get to university and you sit in your first week of lectures and you find yourself asking a question even more terrifying than that original one.
“What if I chose wrong?”
University is a massive adjustment, there’s no denying that. I remember struggling in my first year when, for the first time in my academic career, no one was forcing me to do anything. Professors weren’t reminding me of due dates in every class, no one was calling my parents if I decided not to show up or if I slept through a 9 a.m. lecture, that was between me and my own (abysmal) participation marks.
For some people, the panic of the first few weeks of university comes from that adjustment; from learning how to be self-motivated for possibly the first time in their academic lives.
For others though, no amount of planning, actually showing up to class, or handing in assignments on time can make that nagging question go away. No one wants to think that they made the wrong choice, especially when that choice has been framed as the biggest choice a 17-year-old can make.
Sometimes though, you do choose wrong.
When I was 17 I decided that I was going to come to Brock and study dramatic arts. I loved it in high school and I thought that theatre was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. As I took my first-year classes though, it became clear that it wasn’t working. I didn’t like what I was learning, I didn’t care about the material, I wasn’t engaged and I didn’t want to be there.
My only wish is that I would have realized that I had made a mistake in deciding what I wanted to study and that admitting that was not the end of the world. It’s easy to get stubborn, to become determined to just push through the boring classes. “Just hang in until second-year,” was a refrain that I heard a lot from professors and upper-year DART students. Apparently, second-year was supposed to be the magical turning point where I’d start loving my classes.
It didn’t happen for me. Second-year came and I still didn’t like what I was doing, I still wasn’t engaged and by that point I wasn’t wondering if I’d chosen wrong, I knew I had chosen wrong. Well, that’s not quite right. Maybe I’d chosen right at the time, but as I grew as a person, as I learned more about myself and what I actually wanted out of life, I outgrew the major that I’d chosen before I even got my driver’s license.
I hope that my experience can be something of an example. Don’t do what I did. Just sticking it out until second year wasn’t the solution for me, and it might not be for you either. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that a subject that you were passionate enough to research and apply to university to study isn’t something that you want to do for the rest of your life. You can mourn that, but it’s also important to move on and not be paralyzed by it.
I went from dramatic arts to sport management (with a stop in English along the way) and it taught me a pretty important lesson about university: it’s not supposed to suck all the time. Sure, there are boring classes and there will be lectures that drag on and on, and exam season is the worst no matter how you slice it, but you shouldn’t dread every single class.
So, if you’re in first-year and you’ve had a full week of classes and you’re starting to panic or skip class because you just can’t be bothered to engage with the material, maybe you have to admit that you’re just not in the right program. Luckily, in first-year you have an almost completely blank slate and so academic advisors can and will do what it takes to help you find the program that makes you want to go to class (most of the time, at least). If there isn’t a program at Brock that does that for you, it’s okay to leave too. Whether that’s for another university or a college program or a trade school or just back to your hometown to figure things out, you’ll be okay, I assure you.
If you’re in second-year or even third or fourth year, it’s not too late. When I decided I wanted to get into sport management, I was halfway through third-year. Changing my major has delayed my graduation, it has cost me a little more money that I would have liked to spend, but it’s better than the alternative, which was getting a degree that I never would have used in a field that I didn’t want to be in. If you’re in the same boat, book an appointment with academic advising and ask about your options. You’ll be surprised to know that you probably have way more choices than you thought you did.
Most importantly, if you’ve thought about it and you’ve come to the conclusion that you’ve changed your mind about your program and it’s not what you want anymore, cut yourself some slack. It was a choice that you, in all likelihood, made when you were still in high school. Take a deep breath, email your academic advisor, and remember that it’s okay to change your mind.