As I edit this post, I'm simultaneously celebrating turning in my last paper of the term, all but wrapping up my first semester as an English Major. It’s been a great journey so far, and I’ve learned an incredible amount about both writing and literature, but I think I might have learned the most just from the process of switching majors. So, without further ado, here are four things choosing to change majors taught me.
1. Sometimes it really is too late- I switched majors once and for all at the end of my first semester junior year. While it’s a choice I’ve been incredibly happy with, choosing so late hamstrung me in two ways. First, it’s something of a rush to finish the major now; I'm forced into taking purely English classes for the rest of my time here at Yale, and if I had waited one more semester I wouldn't have been able to make the change at all. Second, switching so late prevented me from managing classes well enough to manage an english-physics double, which I would have wanted to do. Colleges will sometimes say it’s never too late to change a major, but it most certainly can be, so be honest with yourself in thinking about what you want to major in, especially as graduation grows nearer. You can’t always take it back.
2. Changing majors isn’t quitting- This is the struggle that delayed me the most in changing majors, that feeling that leaving the physics major behind was giving up on something I could make it through if I just tried a little harder. I kept convincing myself that it was just one class I was finding unenjoyable becasue it was particularly difficult, and that if I made it through that one I could finish off the rest of the major no problem. It took a lot of people telling me a lot of different things to help me realize that changing majors is less quitting the one you’re leaving than it is making a bold step in a new direction, toward the one you're picking up.
3. Don’t underestimate the value of happiness- For the longest time, I considered it pretty much irrelevant that I would have been happier as an English major than I was in Physics. If I could do the work, I thought, why shouldn't I just stick with the more "impressive" major, and take English classes on the side to keep myself happy? What I forgot, though, was that happiness has such a huge impact on performance. As an English major I am happier, yes, but that also means that I put more effort into my work, do better work in general, and simply think about the course material substantially more. I treated my Physics major much like a job, clocking in only for as long as I needed to. With English, I work overtime happily.
4. In the end, you know what you want- If you had asked me in elementary school what I wanted to do with my life, I would have answered without a moment of hesitation: writer. It’s been a dream of mine since my earliest days. And yet, I resisted the change to an English major for a while on the grounds that I had no idea what I would do with my life with that degree. If I had been honest with myself, I would have realized that was actually true for Physics. I had no idea what career I would pursue with a Physics major, just the nebulous sense that I would be employable. Coming back to English, by contrast, felt like coming back home. This was what I had wanted to do since childhood, and the moment I actually did it, I realized that.
I guess I’d like to leave anyone going into or already in college with that last piece of knowledge: there is a place to call home for everyone. You all have a place that you belong, a place that will feel right to you, no matter who you are. All you have to do is find it.
With excitement and optimism,