“Hello! What’s your name?” People always started, when I was visiting colleges.
“Where’re you from?” Ha, I know that one! (Though now I know I like it here, and want to stay on the East Coast.)
“What other colleges are you applying to?” Cue the long list. (After you decide, you’ll never give this full list again.)
“Are you thinking of a major?” Ahahahaha no. Not yet. I just got here!
[Are you thinking of a four-year plan?] [Are you thinking of a ten-year plan?] [Have you got your whole life planned out yet?]
And those they’ll never ask you, because those are their questions, the ones swirling through every college student’s mind that abruptly come to boil.
Two Wednesdays ago, I sat down with two separate friends at two separate times and was told by both of them that they’d decided to no longer be pre-med. They’d been thinking hard about it over spring break, they reassured me. Christine (who is a first-year) apologized to me, telling me it probably wasn’t a big deal to me as a junior…
False. Crisis moments are always a big deal. Not crises in the true sense of the word, with life or death in the balance (surprisingly, your daily life still goes on, in spite of your suddenly roiling feelings about the future). But these are still crisis moments for us, times when something changes fundamentally in our thinking.
It’s those moments when a whole series of events build up, and suddenly you’re howling: I need to get out, I need to do something better. But then: what do I want to do instead? And: maybe, I should just stay? What does everyone else (my parents!) think? What am I supposed to do? What clues can I look to in my past that indicate one way or another, that show that this path is the one I’ve always leaned towards? What’s my passion? Do I have a passion? Look at everyone else, ask teachers ask friends ask family—am I going the right way? Because I’m turning around. Is that okay with you?
Just an overwhelming need for escape, a feeling that this isn’t working. And then you’re back to step one, back to not having even a one-year plan anymore. For pre-meds it can be especially hard, because medicine is something many people have been planning for years. When you take it away from yourself, you’re left scrambling for a hold.
Add into that that many Wellesley students are neurotic planners. People are organized here, involved in so many activities, arranging everything so that they can do as much as possible. Not everyone, absolutely, and I do interact mostly with those found living in the Science Center. Yet I know for myself that one of the things I enjoy most about my hoped-for career path (neuroscience professor) is the certainty of it. Pre-graduate students like me have a 10-year plan. Pre-med students have a 10-year plan. Almost everyone else doesn’t. Many of my senior friends are still looking for jobs after they graduate. Some know what they want to do, and are working towards it, but the path to their chosen goal isn’t cleanly established. Some don’t know.
So yes, Christine and Suman, I want to know all about your crises, whatever you choose to call them. I want to know why, who you’ve talked to, where you’re thinking of going next. I want to hear about the journey there; I want to be here to listen. Because I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about “real-world” jobs, about what you do if there’s not a line of education leading to the finish line. I don’t know about alums who have used their considerable skills to adapt to different careers: who move around and never settle. Everyone tells me that what you learn at Wellesley—ability to speak, think, analyze, the habit of hard work—will serve you well wherever you go. My chosen field demands research expertise, good grades, and letters of recommendation pretty exclusively. What would a job interview look like when those three things are not the foundation?
Suman wants to move into public health, and she’s already accessing resources and meeting people I’ve never thought of—see my post on the Wellesley Network last week. She’s changed the classes she’s taking in the fall, and she’s lining up opportunities to allow herself to explore this new option. Christine doesn’t know what she wants to do, and she might be switching majors. But as Isabelle said to her: “That’s fine. It doesn’t matter. You’re a first year! You still have until the end of sophomore year (if you’re not going abroad) or second semester sophomore year (if you are going abroad) to decide.” And you can switch your major after that, and how many alums do I know who have a job which has nothing to do with their major? Many. Many.
I tell my parents things like this sometimes, and they kind of laugh at little-naïve-me . You never know what you want to do, my dad told me. You spend your whole life trying to figure it out.
And maybe that is the joy of it, despite the occasional anxiety. Because we never know what will happen. And in that uncertainty we have infinite possibilities: endless opportunities to question and move forward, changing in whatever direction we please.
ps: Questions and comments welcome as always, and I’m directing you to Lori’s Blog for great links about Spring Open Campus. If it’s at all possible, we’d love to see you here! It’s a great opportunity to get the feel of all the wonderful women that make the Wellesley experience—that’s what convinced me to come, and I hope many of you will feel the same .