I remember working through my Common App and in the Primary Major of Interest section, selecting chemistry. At that time, I was sure of that major, and I wanted to let Penn know that.
After a few weeks of CHEM-101 during my freshman fall, I told my pre-major advisor (who was a chemistry professor) that I decided I didn’t want to study chemistry after all. The confidence I had in my major plummeted. Since then, I’ve gone through endless possibilities, mock schedules, and academic worksheets to figure out what I might want to study. But still, when people ask me what my major is, I usually shrug my shoulders or say “I’m undecided.”
During the college application process, we were painting a picture of ourselves. We thought we needed to become a student who knew what they wanted to do ever since they were a baby. Some people wouldn’t even dare apply undecided, but why is that?
It is because too often being undecided gets conflated with being apathetic — that the student has no direction and is just aimlessly taking classes and not thinking about their career. Thus, even before coming to Penn, we have been primed to think of ourselves as perfect applicants.
The person that Penn accepts becomes the person who we are. But I fear that the gap between that perfect applicant and our actual self is becoming dangerously large. I want to urge students to know that the application they submitted to Penn does not have to be the person that they are now, especially when it comes to career and major.
Despite the stigma around being “undecided,” I believe that a lot of people are very unsure or insecure about their major choice or their undecided status.
When I realized my indecision, I felt like there was no time for academic curiosity, and that the classes I was taking were leaving me more and more behind everyone else who knew what they wanted to study. I didn’t realize how integral it was to choose something that I actually enjoyed studying. Most importantly, I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have everything figured out.
But we can rest easy in the fact that about 75 percent of students in the College will change their major during their time here at Penn. Being undecided is not a bad thing, and for me, it means that I am making sure that my intentions for what I want to study are true and authentic. I don’t want to choose a path just to be able to answer the major question, or for a lucrative career. I want to find something that’s ultimately fulfilling.
Starting college changes you. After my first few weeks at Penn, the person on my college application didn’t match who I was. I was lucky enough to realize that that person did not have to transfer over to my time here at Penn.
Maybe the confines of the types of majors offered don’t really fit what you want to pursue. That’s OK as well, and we should recognize the fact that our major shouldn’t control who we are or how we feel about ourselves. Choosing a major is an important decision and taking time to decide is worth way more than choosing something you won’t enjoy.
As sophomore year begins, I am faced with the looming task that I will have to declare a major. I will take time to decide, and you should too. Don’t let your college application and its perfect picture dissuade you from admitting that you might not have everything sorted out. We have all been given this opportunity to attend Penn, and we should spend our time here studying what we truly want to.
JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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