You do not need to have it all figured out. That’s what college is for.
By Mary Elizabeth Buckel
Coming into college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As true as that was, I pretended I knew what I was doing because I thought every other freshman had a plan, and I was convinced I had to have one too. Up until that point, I had always had it together, so it bothered me immensely that I could not figure out what major and career I wanted to pursue. Why could I not sit down, look at the course catalog, and pick something? It could not be that hard. But it was. And it is. I was so excited about starting a new chapter of my life in college, but at the same time, I felt lost, alone, stressed out, and like I had failed at college before the journey had even begun.
Little did I know that I was far from the only freshman experiencing this. We just did not talk about it at the time, even though we were all going through the exact same thing. But why not? Because of the pressure and expectation that college freshmen are supposed to have the rest of their lives figured out at eighteen and nineteen years old and are supposed to figure that out alone. At twenty-two, I can assure you I still have no idea what I am doing with my life, and I just graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice with a double minor in Communication and Social Work from the Honors Program at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. I guarantee if you asked the majority of college seniors who also just graduated, they would tell you the same thing. Because that is the thing about college and about life…you do not know what is going to happen. No one does. As much stress and uncertainty as that causes, it also leaves the door open for a lot of self-discovery, learning, risk-taking, and fun, all of which college is truly about.
I began my beautiful journey at St. Edward’s as a Business major. Even though I had zero interest in Business, I decided to pursue it because I was more afraid of being undeclared than of pursuing something that I knew I was not passionate about. Since I also succumbed to the societal stigma and pressure of having to choose a major, I felt that I might as well major in a field that was regarded as highly successful by my loved ones. I did not think I could go wrong because I was doing what my family thought was best and would set me up for success.
Well, I was wrong. Very wrong. So wrong that I literally changed majors after the first day of freshman year. I wish I was kidding. It took one Business class to confirm that that was not the path for me. I know what you are probably thinking: “You did not give it a real chance. Maybe you would have liked it. It was only one day.” I assure you that the same things were running through my head at the time as I was freaking out that my plan was falling apart on day one. I could not believe I was that kid who switched majors on the first day of college. But I was. And still am. I had to follow my heart, though. The Business did not have my heart, so I had to abandon that plan and try to come up with another, though that plan (Communication) fell apart too. It was not until I let go of the pressures and expectations and embraced the unknown that I found the two things I am so deeply passionate about Criminal Justice and Social Work. It only took three years to figure that out.
After my short-lived experience with Business and a year spent pursuing Communication, I still was not happy. I was so bothered because I could not understand why I could not stick with and be happy with any plan. I was tired of struggling to connect with my classes. On a whim, I decided to sign up for an introductory criminal justice course. What did I have to lose? Those fifty minutes changed my life because they opened my eyes to a realm I had not yet encountered but never wanted to stop learning about. I ended up switching majors the next day…seems to be the repeating pattern of my college story. Criminal justice was never a part of my plan, but once it was, I knew that I could not imagine my life without it.
My junior year, I also fell in love with social work. Like criminal justice, it only took one class period to ignite the beginning of what would soon become another passion. Social work set me free on a different level than criminal justice did. It helped me to understand and begin healing from my own personal struggles, in addition to realizing that I could aid other people in healing from theirs. Though it was too late to double major, I wanted to merge social work and criminal justice together. With guidance from my professors and mentors, I could do just that. This combination led to the development of my own research, Honors Thesis, and internship with The Travis County Juvenile Detention Center. Ultimately, my overall passion for these subjects is what made my college experience worth it because they challenged me to grow not only inside of the classroom but also outside of it. Though they were far from the areas of study I initially planned to pursue, I know they were the right decision for me. College is hard enough. If you are not passionate about what you are studying, it is going to be ten times harder. That I can promise.
I spent so much of my college career worried about what was next that I often missed out on what was right in front of me. Even though I was heavily involved on campus and was thriving academically, that pressure and lack of a solid plan consumed my everyday being. It prevented me from taking risks earlier on and unnecessarily added to my stress. College is already stressful; there is no need to burden yourself when no one really knows what they are doing, even if they pretend to. It is nice to have an idea of what you are interested in, but part of the college experience is having time to explore what you like and dislike. I am not saying that you should not have goals, but you do not need to fixate on having every single part of your college experience planned out because I guarantee you that most of it will not go to plan. And that is perfectly okay. Honestly, I am glad my college experience did not go as planned. If it did and I stuck with Business, I would probably have spent the last four years absolutely miserable and would have never found myself, nor my two life passions. Eventually, you are going to end up where you are supposed to be. You just have to trust and know that you do not have to have everything planned out because no one knows where their journey will take them. As you grow over the four years, though, you will figure it out. If anything, you will probably have a better idea of who you are and what you do not want to do. That is a start.
The amount of pressure that is thrown upon college freshmen is absolutely insane. There are already so many unknowns when you begin college, so why there is this expectation for eighteen and nineteen-year-olds to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives when many do not know how to do laundry, have never lived with a roommate before, or where the dining hall is, is beyond me. It does not make any sense because all of those “little things” are categorized as no big deal when in reality, they are exactly what you should be focusing on in your first year. It takes time to get acclimated, to get your bearings, and even to take enough courses to have any idea of what you may be passionate about. And if you do not figure out exactly what you are passionate about in those four years, that is okay too. You have the rest of your life. College is not this competition to see who has it figured out first because you all have different passions and are going in different directions. Rather, it is entirely about figuring out who you are and what your passions may be, along with having the courage to go after them.
It is extremely hard not to compare yourself to others and to feel like you are constantly behind everyone else because you do not know what the future holds. I struggled with that immensely, but once I realized that I was not alone in having zero idea of what I was doing with my life, I could explore different paths better, cherish the present moment, and experience everything college offers. Really, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and take pride in not having it all together because no one does. That is the thing about college…almost nothing goes as planned. We can try and plan everything out to a tee, but life happens, and plans change. At one point, I was looking into Broadcasting and Media. Then, I took the LSAT and planned to go to law school. Then, I was considering a Masters in Social Work (that is still not off the table). Now, I have the privilege of returning to the beloved Hilltop to work in Admissions and help prospective students like you alongside your own college journeys. My point in telling you all of this is that it is okay to change your mind. In fact, it is almost expected and encouraged. Just because you may not have your whole life figured out at eighteen or nineteen (who does?), does not mean that you still cannot succeed. In fact, it is quite the contrary.
If you were to ask me if I thought I would be where I am today, I never would have believed you. If you were to ask me where I think I am headed, I can assure you I have absolutely no idea. But that is part of the adventure, part of the fun, and part of life. I could not be more excited to find out.