Opinion | In defense of changing your major

By Alex Dolinger, Staff Columnist

The first year — sometimes, the first month — of college can be full of an overwhelming amount of self-discovery. A lot of people come to college with a set plan, but sometimes that plan changes. That’s OK.

When I came to Pitt, I wanted to get a degree in political science and communication because I watched a lot of “The West Wing” and fancied myself as an up-and-coming C.J. Cregg. I was all set in an academic community and was certain I was on the right path. Then, a week passed, and I wasn’t so sure.

Turns out, basing your foreseeable future on an Aaron Sorkin script doesn’t yield promising results. I would sweat nervously through all 50 minutes of my political sociology class, and then I would go cry in a Posvar Hall bathroom — an excellent bathroom to cry in, but that’s another article. I felt like I was in over my head while everyone around me had everything figured out. I went from being one of the smartest kids in my high school to not understanding a word that my professor said. So, I wiped my tears, got an Einstein’s bagel and decided I needed a change.

The magical and terrifying thing about college is that you have more choice than you’ve ever had before, and your choices will end up holding a lot of weight. That’s not to say that making the wrong choice will ruin your life, but quite the opposite. Everyone I know in school has made the wrong choice at some point. Some of them have done it twice. In regards to my major, I made the wrong choice on four separate occasions. But eventually I made the right one, and so will you.

I decided to try my hand at psychology, partly because it was a subject I excelled in during high school, but mostly because it was what my girlfriend was doing at the time. Like I said, we all make wrong choices. It was really interesting, I felt like I was good at it and I wasn’t crying in bathrooms after every class. I was taking a movement class through the theater arts department that helped me find my zen, and it seemed like everything was working out for me. Then, my girlfriend and I broke up, and I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.

While it is a bit embarrassing to publish the tales of my first-year frivolity — making choices based on TV shows and what other people were doing — it all has a point. And the point is that when you’re in college for the first time and you have all this choice, you might make stupid choices. It’s OK to make stupid choices, because stupid choices are one of the greatest learning tools we have.

College teaches you so much more than what you learn in a classroom. One of the things it taught me was that deciding the path that will determine the rest of my adult life is going to take time. It took a lot of time, two years exactly. Since I played my cards right and took a lot of gen-eds, this didn’t set me back. Plus, taking a lot of gen-eds helped me explore numerous career fields until I found the right fit.

I took all kinds of classes during those two years. At one point, I wanted to be a journalist. At another, an FBI agent. But in all these dramatically different semesters, one thing always stayed the same. I didn’t notice it until my adviser — who I bothered a great deal, and you should, too — pointed it out to me, but together we realized that I had taken at least one theater class every semester since I got to Pitt.

I was incredibly intimidated by the theater arts department, but I knew I didn’t want to stop taking those classes, so I decided to take even more of them. My lawyer dreams were fading into the background, and I was coming to terms with the fact that I was falling in love with a historically difficult career path.

But when it comes to difficult career paths, I don’t think shying away from them is the answer. One of the other super important things I’ve learned in college that no professor ever told me is that the best degree for you is the one you are going to finish. I kept choosing these new paths and getting very quickly burnt out, turning to theater for comfort until I moved on to the next thing. While theater is difficult to succeed in, the hard work I do every day to get better at it doesn’t feel like work. When you find something you’re passionate about, something you want to do for the rest of your life, you’ll be excited to go to class every day.

Now, I’m about to enter my final year of college, where I spend most of my day studying scenic design. I never had the opportunity to explore something like this in high school, so I take comfort in the fact that there’s absolutely no way I could have started earlier. I had a lot of exploring to do before I made it here, but I think our passions find us when we’re ready for them.

If you’re entering your first year of college, I hope that you will be ready and excited for your plans to change. It might be hard and kind of scary, but there’s so much to learn about yourself before you find what your passion is. That passion is waiting for you, so don’t worry about how long it takes to find it. Change your major. Change it again.

Alex Dolinger writes primarily satire. You can reach them at [email protected].