By Julia Guay
“It’s not you, it’s me. Ok, so maybe it is you. We’re just not right together, I think it’s better this way.” Breakups can be hard, especially when you invested so much in the relationship. I spent the better part of my first two years at UConn putting everything I had into a failing relationship that left me tired, confused, and a bit pessimistic. This relationship was not a romantic one; perhaps more intimate, this relationship was with my major.
I came to UConn without the faintest idea of what I wanted to study or what I wanted as a future career, so I came in as “undecided.” While for some, an undecided major means “I just like so many things, I can’t decide!!!” my sentiments could be better described as “I don’t think I like anything that much that I want to major and/or have a career in it.” I always felt a certain shame about my lack of major. It’s probably the second question you are asked when you first meet someone in college, “Hi, I’m (insert name here), what’s your name?…Nice to meet you! What’s your major?” Everyone seemed to have their whole life planned out and attending a large research university like UConn, most of those plans involved an impressive STEM major and an accompanying humble brag about how hard it is to have that major. My shame was so intense, I avoided asking people what their majors were, knowing they would inevitably ask mine, and I would have to explain how no, I don’t have a major and no, I have no idea what I want to do and no, I am not leaning toward anything. I regularly scanned UConn’s list of majors and nothing ever stood out. I was desperate.
For whatever reason, I seemed to be constantly surrounded by engineering majors. Whether by osmosis or subliminal messaging, engineering entered my radar as a possible major. After a lot of consideration, I eventually decided to pursue a degree in civil engineering. The transition from undecided to civil engineering major was not an easy one. After a fall semester spent constantly doing homework, rejecting social plans, and cutting back my hours at work, I was burnt out. I just did not have the mental stamina to do that again and so my spring semester was disastrous. Though making it through that spring semester had been a struggle, it ended on a high note when I was hired for a civil engineering internship. I thought that while last semester had been bad, things were getting better. Things would not get better though, until they first became much worse.
Like most jobs, there were aspects of the internship I liked and others I did not, so it did not really help me to determine whether or not this was still the career path I wanted. The experience just left me more confused and less confident in my abilities. Additionally, toward the end of the summer, the actual romantic relationship I was in at the time ended unexpectedly, which further added stress to my life. I struggled through my summer chemistry class, which was just as disastrous as my spring semester. I was sad, confused, and constantly stressed. I reached a breaking point. I looked at the classes I was scheduled to take next semester and finally admitted to myself that I did not have any desire to take them. I realized if something did not change, my next semester would go as poorly as my last and I could not let that happen again. I agonized over what my next move would be. I had put so much work into my civil engineering major. I ignored disapproval from friends and family, hurt friendships, and cut my work hours all in the pursuit of this degree. I felt like I was quitting. Many STEM majors have so-called “weed out” classes and it was frankly embarrassing to think of myself as the person who just could not do it. After some more reflection, I finally decided that I had to break up with my major. I knew it was the right decision when I walked out of my summer chemistry final. Though I was sure I failed that class, I nevertheless felt relief at the thought of being freed from the major that was not right for me and caused me so much stress.
The next challenge, of course, was finding another major. I knew I could no longer pursue engineering but I did not yet know what I wanted to do instead. After agonizing over that decision for some time, I switched into natural resources. I have a family friend who was a natural resources major and really enjoyed her major, so my mom had suggested I try that. I had always had an interest in environmental issues but had never really considered a career in that field. I switched into all the natural resources classes I could get into while keeping one engineering class as a safety net, just in case I decided I did not want to switch after all. After a few days of classes, I realized that I enjoyed my natural resources classes much more than any of the classes I had taken the previous few semesters, especially my Environmental Law class and my Wetland Biology and Conservation class. I soon dropped my final engineering class, the last relic of my past major, and later that semester made it official with my natural resources major. It still took some time to rebuild my confidence and enthusiasm for learning but I can honestly say that I am in a much better place mentally, emotionally, and academically after I split with my previous major. Though I still find aspects of my previous major interesting, I know that I have more passion for my current major.
Reflecting on my college career, I can identify many missteps I have made, but I also know that I am happy with where I am now and if took all that stress to get here, it was worth it. One piece of advice I would give someone in a situation similar to mine is to do your research. Look at options you might not have considered before. UConn has a lot of majors, so it’s easy to overlook some great options. People are a great resource and there are many people who would be happy to talk about their majors. I wish I knew about CAHNR College Ambassadors when I was looking for majors! UConn also has a program called “The Major Experience” where you can connect with students in just about every major to learn more about their major:
Next, be honest with yourself. It is easy to keep your head down and push through your tough classes without ever stopping to reevaluate how you feel. Oftentimes, I have found that classes were made much more difficult when I did not have enough interest in them. If you are taking more classes that you do not enjoy than classes you do enjoy, a change may be necessary! Finally, there can be a lot of emotion surrounding decisions about your major, but you have to use some objectivity. I was concerned about what others would think about my “quitting” and I felt like I had invested so much of myself in my major. Objectively though, I knew I was not happy and needed a change. I have no concrete plans after graduation in May, but I know that because of these experiences I have developed the confidence to persevere through whatever challenges post-grad life may present.