In high school, writing was my least favorite subject. AP Literature classes meant one thing: in-class essays. That meant scrambling to answer a boring prompt about a book I hated within forty minutes, relying only on my memory. Worse, it had to be handwritten in permanent ink. By the time I finished, if I even got to finish, my end result was always a jumbled, barely legible mess of papers covered with crossed out lines and left-handed smudges. My essay grades dragged down everything, from my GPA to my AP scores. Even my ACT scores got dragged down because I didn’t have time to finish the writing portion.
I shrugged most of this off. My major was marine science so I assumed I would never need to write much except for basic scientific papers in college. I wouldn’t have to do a stupid essay ever again. To my dismay, my university required two semesters of writing. Wonderful, another year of English class.
As a freshman, I was pretty much dropped into a random course. I ended up in narrative nonfiction, more commonly known as new journalism. I fell in love with the class. Instead of the standard syllabus novels, we got to jump headfirst into authors like Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson. Gone were the basic classics; I tore through the drug-fueled pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with pleasure. High school was all about analyzing predetermined themes and prompts in order to make the limited time frame; college gave me the opportunity to gather my thoughts and actually enjoy just coming up with wildly subjective claims to support. The class was assigned three papers that semester. I got A’s on every single one of them.
Wait a second. A decent grade? Praise? Did I actually write something... good?
Things got even better in my second semester writing research seminar. I managed to squeeze into a course about narrative in film and literature because I was considering a potential minor in film analysis. Each member of the class had to pick a subject for a research proposal, a formal paper and a public intellectual essay. On a whim, I chose to write about Stephen King adaptations. I became engrossed in my research. While others partied during spring break, I spent my days holed up in the library stacks with film theory, screenplays, movies and literally anything I thought would help.
My professor, Pardis, was the real hero. Sometimes after class, I would walk out with her to bounce ideas back and forth. I started going to office hours. She gave the best feedback, helping tweak my thesis and offering potential research. She gave me a pass on the word count, something no other teacher had ever done before, because I didn’t want to weaken my argument with unnecessary paragraphs. She even encouraged me to experiment with my essay structure without fear of penalty. My public essay on It (2017) was directly inspired by a comment she made about my theory’s applicability to King’s work as a whole. That paper is still one of my favorites, the first time I ever got personal in my writing. Whether she knows it or not, her support changed my life.
While all of this was going on, my major studies were becoming a lot more grim. I entered college convinced I was destined to be a marine biologist. After all, I did well in oceanography in high school and always possessed a passion for the ocean. Apparently, that passion did not extend towards organic chemistry. I was miserable, and it showed. It was time to take action.
I began tweaking my course selections, testing out different directions. I tried out literature and film studies but found that papers were too structured. I shifted towards environmental policy, a closer fit but not quite. I loved advocacy more than the nitty-gritty science. I missed my old writing classes, but I struggled to figure out how to continue along those lines.
It finally clicked in the last place I expected: journalism. I loved being able to come up with my own pitches and test out different writing styles from editorials to film reviews. There were opportunities to actually go into the world and interview people for articles. It was a chance to flex my style and voice, to weave in emotion when called upon. I could change people’s opinions or open their minds to different perspectives just with my words. I still held my passion for the environment, it just took a few different attempts to figure out how to channel it. With my penchant for writing and my scientific background, I discovered a desire to bridge the communication gap between the scientific community and the public.
My final decision to change my major came from my friends. When I confessed my change of heart, the general response I got was “That makes sense, you give off chaotic good COM student energy.” As soon as I heard that, I knew they were right. We all came in freshman year with declared majors, convinced we knew what we were doing. Nearly all of us have now changed our majors. Each of their changes made sense for them; mine was no different.
Not every general credit will be fun. One person’s A+ is another’s “Please for the love of God, I just need a C.” Maybe you got lucky and made the right career moves early on. That doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. There is no reason to be ashamed about adjusting your direction. Chances are, a good portion of the people around you are in the exact same boat. Besides, you never know when you might accidentally stumble into a brand new future.
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