May 3, 2013

Looking Back, Moving Forward

I graduated high school and started college absolutely sure of what I wanted to major in and what my career would be. Everyone in my life was in agreement: nursing was the perfect choice for me. Fast forward to the end of my first year, and suddenly it didn’t seem so clear anymore.  My grades in the major pre-requisite courses were  not what they should have been, but more importantly I did not enjoy those courses. As the year ended and summer passed,  I was faced with a choice - complicated by input from family and friends – about whether or not to continue on the path that I had once been so certain of. I felt that if I let go of nursing I needed to have my next plan set in stone, and I was panicking about not finishing “on time.”

I share my story knowing that the end of the first year looks different for everyone. Maybe your year went exactly as planned – you were interested in the classes you thought you’d be interested in, earned the grades you hoped to earn, made friends, and had an all-around positive experience. Maybe things didn’t go as anticipated – classes in your intended major area didn’t actually interest you they were just tougher than high school, or transitioning to a big campus didn’t go as smoothly as you hoped. Maybe you fall somewhere in between. No matter what, there is always room to evaluate where you are and consider your next steps.

First, reflect on the year behind you. What went well, what didn’t…and why? Think about the lectures you enjoyed attending or the readings that you absolutely dreaded. It was easy for me to point out classes I was not interested in, but it was more difficult to identify what I did enjoy. Recall a time you slept through class, intentionally or accidentally, and consider why. Was it really the 8:10 start time? First period in high school was even earlier! What was it….really? Once you answer this honestly, you can purposely select courses in the future that avoid the disconnect. Life has probably thrown many valuable lessons at you in the past year – remember, share, and consider these as you move forward. The lessons I took from my first year are very useful today. 

 Reflection can help you look ahead and consider your options for the future, which may be numerous. As you spend the summer reuniting with high school friends or back at home with family, it is important to remember what this year has meant for you. Take time to use resources like your adviser or the online Career Assessment tools to identify possibilities. Discuss options with those around you, but make decisions for yourself. The options - declaring a major, or waiting a bit longer to determine your interests, transferring, or even deciding college isn’t for you - are all possible. 

After allowing yourself to identify the lessons of your first year experience, you are better equipped to  face the question of “what’s next?” You should have every step from here planned out perfectly, right? Absolutely not. After one year of college (which is actually only 30 weeks!) it is still perfectly okay to not be sure what you want to major in or what career path you want to pursue. It’s much more important, and easier, to begin to understand what you don’t want to do. I took my second year to reevaluate and reconsider my options, chose courses with my strengths in mind, and ultimately chose a path (psychology and college student affairs) that was better for my GPA and my sanity. 

The first year of college might have felt like this:

But with each passing day you are more equipped to deal with the trials and choices you may face and the second year will feel more like this:

Good luck on finals and have a good summer!