I love engaging in meaningful conversations with people. For the past two days, three friends of mine brought up the same topic of conversation: college majors and future careers. I have one friend who was told me his parents bombarded him with the “what are you doing with your life” question over the weekend. My second friend ranted to me about how irritated she feels when STEM majors feel superior over and belittle social sciences and the humanities. My third friend brought up a meaningful conversation about how her higher educational goals do not match up with society’s conventional mindsets.
After having these conversations, I realized how much college majors have an impact on a person’s view on life, others and themselves. I decided to write this blogpost because I felt like this issue should be discussed and shared with as many of my friends and peers.
I’m a BA environmental studies major. That’s right a BA- Bachelor’s of Arts. I didn’t fail out of Biology. I didn’t choose this major because I wanted to spend less time in the library and more time partying. I chose it because I cared about the natural environment and the importance of sustainability. And if you’re already assuming I’m going to start preaching about how “passion is more important than job security” then keep on reading.
I come from a family that believes the only way to be successful is to be:
Luckily for my sisters, the healthcare profession did not only align with my parents' dreams, it was also in their blood and character. They had the loving and empathetic personality, motivation to help people, and interest to treat patients bedside or behind the microscope. For me however, I planned my future according to what my parents believed were the only ways to be successful, even if it didn't correlate to my own personal desires. And for a second their brainwashing abilities actually worked; I wanted to be an engineer. Since I was eight years old, the only thing I dreamt about was graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering. I have a project I wrote in 3rd grade that said “I want to be an engineer because I want to make computer chips and computer games.” I didn't have the slights idea of what engineers actually do. As I grew older, I became more passionate about subjects like writing, public relations, community service, planning, environmental studies, international studies and government. My brain always worked best when given an assignment or project that allowed me to be as creative and flexible as possible. I realized that the things I was interested in didn’t align with the medical or scientific field.
Deciding what I wanted to do was difficult. Looking back, the only reason it was a complicated process was because my family’s and society’s values had clouded all the options and possibilities that were available for me to explore. My parents told me that no other majors were worth considering because they weren't profitable. Society supported their opinions, and to make it worse, society also said I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at eighteen. There was so much pressure to plan out my life without having enough time to explore what I wanted to do with enough comfort and support during the process.
I’m not saying that my parents and society are wrong. Factually, STEM majors lead to lucrative careers. I am fully aware that some majors do not lead to guaranteed jobs post graduation. And I acknowledge the fact that I am paying thousands of dollars for my education that I’m going to have to pay back in the future. All of these facts are making myself, my friends and all of the other hundreds of students surrounding me in my lecture halls stressed, anxious and paranoid. I have STEM friends who don’t eat or sleep during the week to get at least a fifty percent on their midterm. I have economics and accounting friends who work tirelessly to make it over the 2.85 GPA requirement that the educational bureaucracy imposes on all of the aspiring CPA’s. I have friends in the humanities who feel incompetent because their peers, their parents and the world around them believe that they are working for a worthless degree that won’t get them anywhere.
I’m not an academic advisor here to tell you what path you should and shouldn’t take. I’m here to remind you that there is no "end all be all" road to success. I think the biggest misconception about careers is that there are only a limited number of options. Before stressing out about getting into a major, explore other options. Realize that there are more jobs than your family or society says there are. With my major and additional background experience: I have the potential to become:
I can work for the government, a private organization or firm, a laboratory, or a start-up. And that’s not all. I could go to graduate school and concentrate on public health or public policy or epidemiology. I can take extra prerequisites at community college and apply for nursing school. I can double-major. I can supplement my resume by focusing on job experience over GPA. I can learn practical skills for administrative work or take classes in GIS. What I’m trying to say is that there are many roads that can lead to the same success story. There isn’t a cookie cutter process that has to be followed. You can begin whenever. You can change your mind. Research before assuming. Build a network of people from your discipline and learn that there are different ways to attain your idea of success. If it doesn't work out one way, find another way. Create another way.
Even if your educational or career goals don't match up with your parents, remind them that you're a motivated and hardworking person. I don't think our families and friends realize how hard we work and how much we stress out about making sure we have a planned path. We sacrifice sleep and fun. We study more than they think we do. The fact that we're success-hungry already demonstrates just how successful we will be in the future. True success is based on whether or not you are a goal-getter; whether you're willing enough to put in the work, passion and drive in whatever success you're pursuing.
Success is different for everyone. It might involve getting into medical or law school. It might mean doing whatever you can to help as many people as possible in other ways- through social work, non-profit, teaching or public health. It might mean developing your own talents- in art, dance, music, writing or photography. Whatever it is, it’s yours and yours alone. It isn’t and shouldn’t be everyone else’s success story. Society continues to regurgitate the same idea that STEM will make you succeed even if it means getting hurt, discouraged, or bored in the process. The world needs an eclectic community that offers a variety of potential and hidden talent.
To ALL students- continue to work hard, take care of yourself and be flexible. Figuring out the next step might mean taking a detour or side road, but as long as you focus on what you're doing and letting everyone else navigate their own trek, you’re accomplishing half of your success already.