I came into college thinking I had it all figured out. I had finished most of my gen ed requirements with AP classes, I had my two majors declared and a minor picked out, I knew I was joining the Peace Corps after graduation, and I knew exactly what my career was going to be. So, when I signed up for my first semester of classes, I jumped right into my classes for my majors, not bothering to explore other subjects because I knew what I was doing.
You probably know where this story is going…of course, I realized that one of my majors just wasn’t the right fit, and suddenly, my entire life plan was up in the air. I was lost, confused, and extremely stressed, because it felt like I was the only one without a plan. I had to take a step back and reevaluate, and that meant doing what I should have done in the first place – exploring classes from a variety of disciplines. I had heard this advice before, but chose to ignore it, because I thought I had it all figured out. So, for my first piece of advice:
Take the time to explore your options, even if you already have an idea of what you want to do. This is the only time in your life when you’ll have the opportunity to study anything you want, and you might find a passion you didn’t know you had!
I ended up finding passions for public health and African studies, so I transitioned my international studies major to a minor and added a public health major. Not everyone was thrilled with my choices – some people wanted me to study business or biology, something I could “make a lot of money in.” I realized quickly that my major was mine to choose, not anybody else’s, because I would be the one sitting in class every day; I wanted to study things that made me excited to go to class!
I also started getting involved in research on campus, and stumbled upon a passion for studying the ways in which the prison system is woven into our society, which is now formulating my new career goals in social work and academic research. I found several opportunities to get involved in my new passion on and off campus, such as clubs, research projects, volunteer positions, and internships, and I gained so much valuable experience that has helped me determine my career goals and begin working towards them. Although each opportunity was valuable, I started becoming very overwhelmed because I had committed to too many things, and I had to learn how to say “no” and prioritize the things I cared about most. This brings me to my next career development tip:
Don’t say yes to everything, and don’t say no to everything. If you say yes to everything, you will quickly get burned out, but if you say no to everything, you might miss out on some great opportunities to learn about yourself and the world around you. Choose your activities and extracurriculars wisely – Pursue valuable opportunities, but ensure that you can balance all of your commitments well. Focus on the career areas you enjoy, even if they are different from what others want you to do.
This includes academics; you’re allowed to take classes just for fun. Not everything has to be directly related to your major or minor. Throughout my time at CofC, I’ve taken classes from so many different disciplines (once I finally listened to everyone’s advice and explored other subjects!). I’ve taken Russian, dance, Model African Union, French, several independent studies, and sociology, to name a few. I’ve also taken some really cool classes on study abroad trips, from a course on postcolonial development in Ghana to a seminar on international business practices in Denmark, Sweden, and England. Studying abroad is another great way to explore new subjects and learn about other places and cultures while also learning about yourself. Even if you just go for a week, go abroad! And until it’s safe to travel again, consider trying out a new language or taking a class or two on a different area of the world- I really recommend the African studies courses!
Freshman year can be scary; there’s so much pressure on you to start figuring out the rest of your life. And while yes, you should be thinking about that, take this once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the world and get to know yourself, because if you know who you are and focus on the things you’re passionate about, then everything will fall into place.
-Katie Hill, Peer Career Advisor