By Jenn Morrison
The question that used to be a place of infinite possibility and carefree imagination has come back, demanding a definitive answer that will dramatically impact your life:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
As a college applicant, you have some people telling you that you need a clear direction, a particular passion, or a “dream career” in mind. After all, college is a major investment, and you want to make sure you are dedicating your tuition and years of studying towards the interests that align with your skills and long-term passions.
But simultaneously, you have others telling you that you’re young. You have all the time in the world to figure out what you want to do, and college is a time for exploration. It’s an opportunity to dabble in new interests or even discover a field you had never knew existed.
It doesn’t make it easier, but both of these perspectives are correct.
You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do. Yes, you are young, and while you may have already had rich experiences that are guiding you in a certain direction, you are about to have your world turned upside down for the better.
If you approach college in a way that is not simply going from Point A to Point B, but rather stopping and learning from the people you have the privilege to be surrounded by, in a supportive community full of people with different backgrounds, interests, and experiences than your own, you will undoubtedly change. Your interests will change, your character will change, and your career goals may be wholly unidentifiable from what you set out to achieve as a senior in high school.
For some of you, that can be intimidating, and that’s okay. It’s okay to embrace the unknown, to be undecided, to change your mind about your major once or twice or ten times.
For others of you, you don’t believe me. You have found something you’re passionate about and are on a clear track towards accomplishing your goals. This is not meant to dishearten you or dissuade you from your passions, but as you set foot on campus, remember you’re in a unique opportunity to explore new interests without penalty. Even if you continue on the path you set out on, you can only become better at what you do by learning from more perspectives.
At UNC, the risk associated with being undecided or changing your goals often is practically nonexistent. You’ll be in the fortunate position of having more than 70 majors and minors to choose from, with world-class programs across a variety of fields. There is no wrong choice, and there is no limit to your choices.
As an incoming first-year with a specific major in mind in a professional school, I was resentful of the seemingly lengthy list of general education requirements. I thought I knew what I wanted to learn and didn’t want anything slowing me down. Now as a senior, I can honestly say some of those requirements turned out to be my favorite classes and introduced me to ideas and issues that have had a major impact on my goals and on more importantly on my character.
So as you think about your potential field, or fields, of study, don’t be apathetic towards the decision but take a breath and enjoy the process. There is no shame in not knowing what you want to do, but the best way to figure it out is to actively learn. Join a new club, take a class you wouldn’t normally consider, and don’t be afraid to change your path. You have a whole community of people waiting for you here who will help you no matter which direction you choose, even after you graduate.
When you set foot on campus, I hope you feel the same excitement of limitless possibility as you did as a kid being asked what you want to be when you grow up. Because the truth is, you don’t have to pretend you’re already grown up, and you still can choose anything.