For all of the incoming freshmen, for all of the recent grads, and for everyone in between, this is an article my past self needed.
The biggest piece of advice I can give as an incoming college senior is that the years of your life spent at a university is not linear. And that’s perfectly okay. In a time that’s intended to be formative, why would the expectation be to be stagnant?
A myriad of questions haunt students day by day, whether it be your major, your career path, or your biggest life aspirations. Committing to the University of Southern California (USC) as a freshman, I had in my mind an expectation of what I was going to do and who I was going to be. That idea was challenged immediately during my orientation session when I decided to change my declared major. It was challenged before I had even truly begun my time at USC.
Entering my first ever college classes came with the feeling that I had to fit into a mold. It didn’t seem to matter which mold either, just so long as I had an identity. So I chose a mold (that would end up changing and pivoting again and again). This brought a sense of security as now I could answer classmates when they would ask about my life plans and I could pretend to discuss career paths and the “future” before I had even familiarized myself with these ideas.
Even then, underlying this sense of security and identity was this growing feeling of uncertainty and with it fear. Then, I couldn’t figure out why I felt this way when I thought I had done what was needed to put me on the trajectory to success. I was supposed to be doing things “right:” getting a head start on my future and committing myself to a concrete goal. Now, I look back and realize the discomfort I had in branding myself before I had even figured out who I was. A part of me knew change was consistently coming.
Ironically, change is the only thing that is constant in life. And change takes time. When you go to college, you don’t immediately go through this pile of change all at once and suddenly boom! You’ve become what you’re intended to be. The timeline of change doesn’t speed up when you submit that college application or step onto campus for the first time or even when you step onto campus for the final time. As scary as it feels to admit, no one has any idea who or where they’ll be in ten years.
Because of the integral role change plays in life, I see the linear pathway laid out for college students as nothing short of false expectation. To expect to choose your major and career and to continue down this road with no speed bumps or turns is unrealistic.
I don’t mean this to bash the college system or to speak out against students who have this expectation. I mean this to encourage. To encourage the students who have tried to bury their uncertainty through false personal reassurances. To encourage the students who felt as lost and as uncertain as I did every time someone asked me about what my major was and “what I wanted to do with that.” You are far from alone. Even now, I give a nervous chuckle when my dentist asks me what I’m aiming to do in the future. The only difference now is that I am no longer ashamed of admitting I’m uncertain. I am no longer scared when I think about the vastly different roles people end up in that have little to nothing to do with their major or their college essays.
I entered USC as a Politics, Philosophy, and Law major. I went Undeclared at my freshman orientation. I tried different courses and transferred into Computer Science Business Administration. I hated it initially. I fell in love with it slowly. Someone asked me what I wanted to do, and I pulled the answer “biomedical engineering” from thin air. I admitted to myself I had no interest in pursuing that. I tried different things in business and engineering, applying to different roles. I hated some, I loved others. I ended up finding something I think I’m passionate about. I’m attempting to pursue that, with the full understanding that it may not work out. That brings me to present day.
My identity has undergone a rollercoaster of ups and downs I am forever grateful for, and the only thing I wish I could have changed was the pressure I put on myself to get it “right” each time. To all of the college students, I hope you do not see change as a bad thing. It’s not a failure, it’s a constant reminder in life that you’re growing. The picturesque mold you want to fit yourself into genuinely doesn’t exist. It’s a construct created for false senses of security. Do not be ashamed or scared to admit to yourself that you don’t know what the future holds for you. It’s better than being blindsided by change.
To my past self, give yourself a break. Lose the pressure of having to conform to what it seems like everyone else is doing. Instead of trying to find and fit the coveted linear pathway, open your mind to learning and change. You are no less because you don’t know what you’re going to do in the future. And you are far from an imposter.