What do you want to do, potentially for the rest of your (working) life? It is the most commonly asked question of high school upperclassmen. Beyond that, when you are finally admitted into college the follow up question is usually: “What are you doing there?” The pressure to decide comes from your parents, relatives, teachers – even your closest friends.
I quickly learned in my journey to NYU that society had an expectation of those to college. We should be decisive. We all know the stereotypical college story of applying into a major and then graduating with that same major. What is crucial to understand (and what I wish I knew years ago) is that this is not the default, in fact it is an outlier.
Knowing that I was in the majority was comforting information to me, even if I learned it much later on. I was accepted as an undeclared student into NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. I knew I had a general interest in the sciences, but I couldn’t say decisively my major of interest (Mechanical Engineering) was the right choice for me. This only tells part of the story though; my search led me to diverse fields.
Did I really want to go into a math (yikes) heavy field of study? Why not pursue business, a field much more akin to my talkative and team-oriented personality? What about political science and public administration? These questions highlight what many late-teenagers struggle with, making decisions that could define our lives. Even more so, it shows just how indecisive I am. Even today I find myself in an internal battle of what to eat for dinner.
The point is that not only is being indecisive completely normal for people our age, it’s also important to shrug off the pressure to be more decisive. While it may be great to know exactly what you want to do with your life, ultimately it is an unrealistic expectation. Most of my friends, even those most for-sure of their future, change their studies in ways I guarantee they could not have known nor suspected as Seniors in high school. Studies (yay facts) even suggest that “students who change majors are more likely to graduate than those who settle on one major the second they land at college.” Boom.
I, myself, started undeclared in my First Year at NYU. I eventually chose Mechanical Engineering at the end of that year. A semester into the second year, I switched into Business and Technology Management, a field that balances my technology interests with my business priorities.
So, if you’re wondering what to do with your life while your parents breathe down your back, take a deep breath. Forget the age old question “What do you want to do with your life?” Instead, ask yourself what your broader interests are. This is a powerful tip because you’re most likely not applying to the School of Biology, rather you’re applying to a school that offers Biology as one of its many majors. It’s more important to consider “Do I have an interest in doing science for the rest of my life?” rather then asking “Do I want to do Biology for the rest of my life?” as the prior question will ultimately better guide you towards the right school than the latter.
Ultimately, coming to college as an indecisive student can be ~gasp~ challenging, but unshackling yourself from flawed expectations can help you navigate college that much more effectively. So embrace your indecisiveness and join the ranks of your fellow undeclared and major changers, better to stand strong indecisively then fein decisiveness and find yourself out of college unhappy about your decision.