Last Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Some students have their life plans set out for them: they’re going to be a doctor or an accountant or an engineer, nonnegotiably. Sometimes there’s just one problem: it’s not their plan. Their parents have laid this out for them since they were born, and maybe it’s the only way they’ll help pay for college. Or perhaps a student chose a major early on, and now, despite their initial interest, a scholarship keeps them tethered to their department. These things happen to thousands of students across the country every year.
So when you must stay in a major you don’t love, what should you do? Here are a few ways you can explore your real passions and find possible career paths that do interest you.
Figure out what you do like
If you already know…
Maybe you’ve wanted to be an author since the third grade and you write brilliantly, crafting every word with care—but that doesn’t keep your parents from making sure you’re enrolled in pre-medical classes every semester. This doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Research the organizations your college has to offer. There are often school newspapers to contribute to or writing and book clubs to join if you put in the time and look in the right places. When you have free time, close the Netflix tab and open up your university’s website every now and then to find opportunities to pursue your real passion.
If you're not sure…
If you’re not sure what you love (you just know your major isn’t it), there’s still plenty to explore. Start by getting involved and talking to your peers. Find an organization that generally aligns with your values or skills. For example, if you’d like to teach, try to find a tutoring job on campus in a subject you know well. Broaden your horizons: visit campus organization fairs or club orientations and give your email to whatever group piques your interest. There are probably organizations out there you didn’t even know you wanted to be in, so go find them!
Participating in student groups can be invaluable to your college experience. From there, you can build a relatively large social circle. Then you’ll have access to people with information about all kinds of different programs, classes, and professors. Take that and run with it! Socialization is not only great for your mental health, but it’s really useful to understand the pros and cons of different majors and career paths out there. Ultimately, what you love isn’t going to knock on your dorm room door and demand you come out. You have to go out and search for it.
Look beyond the classroom
Either way, class isn’t the only way to learn! Independent study can be just as valuable as joining clubs and adding minors. Find a podcast about your field of interest for your commute or breaks between classes. Find a book that sparks your passion and makes you want to learn more. Don’t limit learning to in-class activities; there isn’t always going to be a class for what you want to know, so make your own path.
Find what you love in your major
Every major has some aspects of what you love, I promise. Every subject intersects with another at some point. Perhaps the classes you’re taking right now don’t reflect that, but the entire career likely isn’t as miserable as you think. Take a look at the elective options for your major: could any of them tie in with what you actually want to do? For example, if you’re a history buff stuck in a medical path, are there classes about the history of modern medicine available? These types of classes could feed your desire for history in your everyday life while sparking your interest in something you think is hopeless—and they could turn into career paths beyond college.
Related: What Can I Do With This Major?
Ask yourself, can I succeed here?
If you’re doing well in the major you’re bound to, keep an open mind. Don’t come to class every day with the idea that you’ll hate it or that all the people around you are going to make you miserable. As reluctant as you may be, stay open to new possibilities. There may be interesting people in your classes, and your professors might bring up topics you like! If you shut everything out and just try to get by, you won’t give the classes or the people a chance to win you over.
Also, remember that most majors won’t tie you down to one particular job. Your major could turn out to be a necessary evil to get to the fun part. Research the career possibilities that could come from your degree. One really useful thing to try is an informational interview. Reach out to people in your field or those with jobs you’re interested in, asking if they have time to sit with you to discuss what they do and how you can get there. This can be intimidating, but it’s worth it to understand what you’re getting yourself into or how you can turn your major into a career you love.
Related: The Truth About College Majors
Understand that no matter what, your major is useful
No matter what college classes you’re taking, as long as you’re learning something (and you always should be), you aren’t wasting your time or money. Even if you hate it now, this information will be useful to you at some point in your life. It could be years down the road when you’re writing the book of your dreams or doing research in the field your parents didn’t think you could succeed in, and suddenly you remember an inkling of information from a junior year Chemical Engineering course that puts something into perspective or helps solve a problem. Perhaps it could give you a leg up in being a unique applicant for your dream job. Maybe that doesn’t feel worthwhile or possible to you now, but it will matter then. As cliché as it is, knowledge really is power, so don’t turn it away.
Learn more about degrees and the careers they can lead to in our Majors and Academics section.