It is Okay to Not Know

SUNY Oneonta

Tara O’Leary, Staff Writer |

As a senior at SUNY Oneonta, with my time here quickly coming to an end, I can’t help but think about where it began. Once a nervous freshman in Littell Hall, I was hours away from home, living with people I had never met before, and  had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, I was so unsure about what I wanted that I didn’t even choose a major. I came in undecided, which sounded simple to me, but to almost everyone else, it seemed complicated.

There was an outside pressure that wanted me to pick something, and that pressure quickly became internal as well. I remember dreading the ice breakers at floor meetings and first classes where they’d make us go around and introduce ourselves. It seemed like I was consistently the only person to say that they didn’t have a major, which really only added to the internal pressure.

So, I spent my first year and a half experimenting with as many areas of study as I could, bouncing around from class to class hoping that something, literally anything, would stick. Eventually, something did, and half-way through my sophomore year I was officially a Mass Communications major.

Since then, the days of floating between subjects have felt long gone, and I hadn’t given it much thought until this past weekend. While talking to a potential future Oneonta student who had no idea what they wanted to study, I was able to give the advice that I needed to hear as a 17-year-old high school senior— That it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to have questions about not just the various programs but about yourself as well. It’s okay to figure it out as you go because you will eventually do just that.

Some education experts have gone as far to say that waiting to choose a major is actually beneficial. I won’t go that far; I think it depends on the student, but their point was that being undecided allows students to take a wider range of classes and learn more about the areas that they find interesting. At Western Kentucky University, Matthew Foraker led a study that found that students who waited to pick a major had a graduation rate of 83 percent, while those who entered with a major were just under 73 percent. Foraker came to a similar conclusion, suggesting that taking a variety of classes allows students to make a more informed decision and ultimately stick with it.

Nonetheless, choosing a major is hard. “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented – or disoriented – than the choice of a major,” wrote Eric St. John. As a teenager it could feel like the rest of your life is riding on your decision. However, it isn’t as tremendous of a choice as it seems.

The job market is relatively fluid. Aside from some specific careers, your major doesn’t have to correlate directly with your future profession. In fact, many jobs require skills from outside your area of study. Also, your major can be changed. A Pennsylvania State University study discovered that about 75 percent of students change their major at least once before they graduate. “If you love your major, you will typically earn higher grades, so change majors to something that you are passionate about,” said Randall Hansen, author of “The Idiot’s Guide to Choosing a Major.”

The point of this isn’t to say that everyone should wait to decide what they want to study. This isn’t a debate with a right or wrong answer because it’s based entirely on individual experience. While education experts continue to go back and forth over pros and cons, one thing that they can agree on is making an informed choice. So if you’re someone who knows what they want, that’s great, seriously. For those that are undecided, it’s not unusual and it’s not something that you have to agonize over either.

With graduation right around the corner I’m back in the same boat—filled with uncertainty about what lies ahead, although, I think I’m handling it better this time around, or at least I hope I am. As questions have begun to swarm, wondering what my plan is going forward, I have the same answer that I had back in 2015: I don’t really know yet. However, now I know that answer is okay; I’ll figure it out soon enough.

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