By Meara Hall
After one year of general chemistry and an additional year of organic chemistry, I'd had enough.
Despite the fact that my transcript stated that I was a chemistry major, my enthusiasm for the field was waning. When asked to picture my life in five years, I realized that I just couldn't get it into focus. I couldn't imagine myself in a laboratory surrounded by bubbling test tubes and acrid chemicals. Nor could I see myself clawing my way through medical school.
Unfortunately, my parents, both doctors, were ecstatic when I first hinted that I might follow in their footsteps. Now, I was about to douse them with a cold, bitter truth: I didn't actually want to be a chemistry major, or a doctor. It was time to change.
Changing majors while in college is a common occurrence for most undergraduates. According to the 2005 article "College freshman face major dilemma" published on MSNBC.com, more than 80 percent of college-bound students have not yet chosen a major by the time they begin their college careers. Additionally, 50 percent of students ultimately change their major at least once, with most students changing their major three or four times, the article stated.
Though changing majors may be a normal college experience, it isn't always easy for the students, or even their parents.
For Whitworth senior Travis Huskisson, changing majors has become a motif of his college career. During his four years as a college student, Huskisson has switched majors six times, exploring such fields as applied physics and theology.
"I wanted to do everything," said Huskisson.
Like Huskisson, students can be overwhelmed at the number of majors available, and may find the task of tailoring their interests into one or two specialized fields daunting.
"I think the idea of getting out of college and having just one job or career is really scary for me," said Huskisson, who decided to major in journalism. "You're here on earth for so long, why just do one thing?"
Michael Ingram has spent a great deal of time mentoring students in their quest for the perfect major. As the Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Scholarship , and as an academic advisor and professor, he has helped guide students through their college years.
"For some freshmen it is a scary thing. They are hesitant to commit to a major," said Ingram, describing the emotions involved with selecting a major. "Sophomores and first term juniors tend to have panic feelings, either because they have not yet found a major, or the one they selected is not working out in their mind."
As certain students struggle to pinpoint their perfect major, parents anxiously watch their children's indecision. Uncertain how best to help their student, parents can mistake their children's decision to switch majors as abnormal or counterproductive.
"Each year at freshmen orientation, several faculty and staff join me in assuring parents that students will change their mind about majors several times before settling on one," said Ingram. "We try to assure parents that this is normal."
Like Ingram, Gordon Jacobson, the director of Whitworth's Career Services office, has spent time reassuring parents that changing majors is a typical part of the college process.
"Parents usually ask two questions: Is it normal for my son or daughter to want to change their major? And what resources does your office provide to assist in the selection of a major that reflects my student's gifts, strengths, career and vocational goals?" explained Jacobson. "From my experience, a Whitworth parent's primary concern is the ultimate satisfaction/happiness of their student."
When Ingram sees parents worried about their child's indecision, he recommends that they listen to their student's point of view and allow the student to explore the different majors and career options.
"The hardest part is simply to listen to their students and hear what they want to do in life," said Ingram. "Ask questions, rather than make speeches, and encourage students to talk with other professionals or people studying or working in that discipline."
After exploring six different majors, Huskisson ultimately chose an unconventional path. As a journalism major, Huskisson is also completing all the necessary coursework for the pre-dental track. Though others question his decision, Huskisson is confident that it's right for him.
"I'm at peace with it," said Huskisson. "It's the process of getting here that's overwhelming."
Echoing Huskisson's thoughts, Jacobson stated, "It is important that students find 'their' major, a major which matches their gifts and reflects their vocational and career goals."
With only three semesters left in my traditional four-year education, I decided to follow Jacobson's advice. After reassessing my interests and goals, I became a communications major. The leap from chemistry to communications was a huge adjustment. My parents were initially disappointed, saying that communication majors are "a dime a dozen" and hardly employable. My friends in the science department assumed my decision was an easy escape from difficult coursework.
Despite the negative backlash, my heart felt strangely calm. My days, normally spent drawing 3D molecular structures and memorizing functional groups, were now filled with social penetration theory and discussions about self-disclosure — much more to my liking.
Now, only one semester away from graduating, I can't imagine pursuing a different path. When I picture my future, I may not have a concrete answer, but several vivid ideas spring to mind — journalist, public relations practitioner, event planner, professor — and I like what I see. It took two-and-a-half years, but I finally found the right major for me.
Now I just have to keep myself from changing my mind.