Hannah Meiser

Photo courtesy of: Hannah Meiser

Featured Stories

Cat Counsel banner

Major discovery: Finding the right path

Choosing or changing a major can be a daunting decision

One fall afternoon not too long ago, a friend and I were discussing a local company’s recent mishap. My friend dubbed the corporation an insensitive miser.

My quick defense of the business’ position led her to respond, “That’s a great spin; you should go into public relations.”

This moment marked a turning point for me. I was a junior in the magazine sequence at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism who had faced two years of a fickle love-hate relationship with my major.

I started in this sequence, unsure if it was right for me, and nearly switched to political science after my first year. My debate did not end then; I toyed with the idea of switching to virtually every non-science major until my junior year.

I’m now in the public relations sequence, but it wasn’t an easy path to get here.

Now as a senior, I have reflected on my academic journey and I have accepted that I had fallen victim to three common emotional states - fear, denial and avoidance - on my way to finding my personal passion.

Fear: the beginning
First-year students are given a hefty double-edged sword on entering college: the freedom of four years to discover themselves, tied to the pressure of a major life decision.

“Students can almost always tell you what they don’t want, even if they can’t tell you what they do want,” said Laura Chapman, assistant dean for student services.

I embodied this perspective. I entered college uncertain of my passion, and opted for journalism to please my family’s nagging career questions, but the decision did nothing to quell my own uncertainty.

My fear and indecision expressed itself in excuses. I was always too tired, too busy or needed to strengthen bonds with my new friends too much to go to magazine events. These effectively prevented me from experiencing my major.

These translucent excuses endured because of another inconvenient emotional state: denial.

Denial: the second stage
Denial in this sense meant ignoring the obvious signs that my major wasn’t right for me.

Despite being involved in creative pursuits all my life, I always worked better “inside the box.” My best work came when I was presented with an amount of structure and guidance - something that I didn’t feel magazine writing offered me enough of, while other programs required too much.

I was looking for my Goldilocks major, where the structure and guidance was just right for me.

“The first thing we tell students is to get to know more about yourself,” said Chapman. “Self-assessment is important. If you don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are, then you may pick a major that doesn’t fit.”

My self-denial in this sense was simple, but it was bringing others into the equation that made it complicated. And, this is where the last emotional trait enters: avoidance.

Avoidance: the final problem
As a child of protective and involved parents, it was difficult to evade conversations with my family about my major. But, I had a talent for sounding more involved than I was. Plus, I found that maintaining a good G.P.A. while working two jobs provided a strong basis for a defense.

So, even if I couldn’t avoid conversations that would expose my fear and denial, I could manipulate them enough to dodge admitting uncertainty about my major.

When my friend nonchalantly prescribed a new professional pathway for me that fall day, she unknowingly struck the right nerve. Within a week, I had become a public relations major and found my personal fit. I was quickly involved, inspired and confident in my future.
If you take nothing else from my story, remember this -- never let fear of failure constrict your exploration.

Chapman suggested meeting with your adviser, visiting career services and taking courses that expose you to new things. Had I done this I would have discovered my path sooner. There is no shame in being unsure, just let the uncertainty motivate you to finding a path you’re passionate about.