UBC Main Mall

It’s not exactly fall just yet, but the back to school season will soon be upon us. Indeed, many college and university students have already selected their courses for the upcoming semester and, for those who haven’t, they will be picking their courses very soon too. And this can be a huge source of stress, particularly for freshman who are entering “higher education” for the first time.

You already know what faculty you’re in, but you could also be feeling a lot of pressure to select your major right off the bat. Given the huge financial commitment that goes along with acquiring a post-secondary education, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. While it can certainly prove expensive to dilly-dally among several different areas of study, I highly encourage you not to choose your major in your first year.

Entering a Brave New World

When you go to college or university for the first time, everything is going to be new to you. In high school, teachers would usually be there to nag you about doing your homework or studying for your tests. Professors don’t do that. In high school, everyone had roughly the same kind of schedule. In university, your schedule is dictated by the courses you select. Some of your friends may have classes that start at 8am, but yours may not start until later. Likewise, you may partake in some evening courses while your buddies may not. And college could be the first time for you living away from home.

It’s all new and it can all be very overwhelming.

And this is also true for many of the courses you might take. Speaking for myself, my high school didn’t offer any courses in economics, but I took Economics 101 and 102 at the University of British Columbia where I got my degree. Prior to university, I didn’t take any courses in statistics, sociology, or anthropology either, but I took all of those during my time at UBC. How can you know if you want to major in any of these disciplines if you’ve never had any formal education in them. That’s what you should be doing during your first year in school.

Opening Your Eyes for the First Time (Again)

Absolutely, you should take certain core courses like English and Math, but remember to take as many electives as you can too. I majored in my worst subject and it’s because I took Psychology as an elective on a whim and decided it was right for me. I got better grades in math and economics — and I thought accounting was the career I was going to pursue — but that’s not the path I ended up taking. And I’m very happy for it. My English Literature minor probably helps in my current career too.

Some people will say that dedicating four or five years of your life to get a university degree is a waste of time and money, because they don’t guarantee you any sort of real job prospects when you graduate. However, you want to make sure that if you are going to spend that kind of time and money on your degree that you pursue something that really interests you and that really fits with your particular skill set. Otherwise, it really will feel like a wasted opportunity.

Seeking Inspiration and Guidance

There are definitely some specialized educational paths out there for doctors, engineers and astrophysicists. Don’t get me wrong. But if you can help it, don’t declare your major in your first year of studies. Instead, take that time to really explore what yourself and what your university or college has to offer. Visit the career center and talk to a counselor. Use those resources.

If you feel like you don’t know what to do with your life, realize that you are not alone. Just about all of your other classmates feel the same way, but some of them might pigeon-hole themselves into a specialization they may later regret. I know it sounds cliche, but what they say really is true. College and university is a time for finding yourself.

Allow yourself to do that.