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.
Meet Zoe, a senior Anthropology and Global Studies double major and Hispanic Studies minor from Washington, DC.
Why Anthropology: “I discovered anthropology at UNC through classes my sophomore year. They challenged me more than any other subject to think differently and question everything. I fell in love with the discipline and decided to pursue a major in it.”
Favorite Anthropology class: “My favorite class was ANTH 92/93, also known as UNITAS. UNITAS is the living-learning community centered around social justice and ANTH 92/93 is the year-long anthropology seminar required of students in the community. The first semester was centered around understanding anthropology and learning about different forms of oppression and social injustice in the United States. Since it was such a small class–15 students or less–we got to know each other and the instructors so well and the entire class was discussion based. It transformed my world view and made me want to pursue an anthropology major. The second semester it was an APPLES service-learning course, so for 30 hours throughout the semester we individually volunteered at a community organization that was seeking to correct some social injustice. We were also conducting enthographic research on these communities, so we took field notes and conducted interviews throughout our volunteering, with the end product being our own mini ethnography and research poster presentation. I loved this class because it introduced me to anthropology, gave me my first taste of humanities research, and got me more involved in the Chapel Hill community. Not to mention it completely opened my eyes to social inequalities and systems in the United States. And finally, one of the instructors still serves as a huge mentor to me even after leaving UNC — we still email and she gives me advice on all my research pursuits.”
Favorite Anthropology professor: “My favorite professor is Arturo Escobar. He is a world-renowned anthropologist on international development, and also just an incredible human being. He’s the type of professor who can explain any topic, no matter how complex, in a way that makes sense, and seems to do it effortlessly. Even though he is top in his field, he lets his students lead all the discussions and never tries to force a specific opinion on anyone. He would bring chocolate and fruit to every class, and at the end of the semester our whole class had dinner at his house. It is amazing to me that someone who’s name appears whenever I do research on international development–even cropping up when I was studying abroad during a guest lecture–could be so humble and approachable and so genuinely interested in getting to know his students. I’ll definitely never forget him.”
Favorite Anthropology extracurricular: “I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, fall of my junior year. Our program theme was Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change, and we traveled to Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil during the semester. At the end of the semester, we conducted a month-long independent study using field research to investigate a topic of our choice. I used interviews and ethnographic research to learn more about disability rights in Argentina, and this formed the basis for my senior honors thesis. I’m now writing my honors thesis on the disability rights movement in Argentina. I’ll be returned for a week in October to conduct more interviews through research grants I received from the Global Center.”
Why Carolina: “UNC has it all. It’s the type of place that by just walking on campus you can tell how happy students are. It offers world-class academics, incredible athletics, the quintessential college town, a passionate and diverse student body, and a beautiful campus. Professors care about their students, and there’s a sense of family. It really makes a difference to go to a place where every student has such intense pride and love for their institution. Even on the worst of days, going to a place that people love means that you can always be grateful. And people love UNC because it offers you everything.”
Meet Sibusisiwe, a sophomore Peace, War & Defense and Political Science double major from South Africa.
Why PWAD: “I chose Peace, War and Defense because it has a National Security concentration and I’m interested in government security. I’ve started learning Arabic in hopes of working in a counterterrorism bureau.”
Favorite PWAD experience thus far: “I’m planning on studying abroad soon, but recently my Arabic 102 class took a field trip to a mosque and that was great!”
Favorite PWAD extracurriculars: “I am active in the Campus Y: UNC’s Center for Social Justice because I am a huge advocate for the betterment of our society by allowing everyone to live a life that makes them happy. Almost all of the organizations I’m involved in are through Campus Y, such as HYPE, which tutors children in the local community, Catalyst Conference, a weekend conference we host for high school students, and Carolina Kickoff, which has been a defining part of my college experience so far.”
Why Carolina: “I can’t describe the experience here in any other word other than life-changing. The passion and love the students have for this place is amazing. When I talk to people that graduated from Carolina, they always talk about how much they miss it and wish they could go back. We know we have to grow up but something special about this place makes us wish we could stay here forever. I don’t how I lived 18 years without this place.”
By Grace Marquino, a senior Math and Biology double major from Wilmington, NC
- Adjust expectations and don’t get discouraged by early grades. Majoring in Math at UNC is challenging. Remember it’s a difficult major and don’t get down on yourself just because you’re not getting the same exact grades you got in high school. You’ll learn how to properly study, take exams, and improve!
- Utilize peer tutoring. You can receive peer tutoring through the Learning Center and it’s a ton of help when you’re stuck on a concept or lesson. It’s also free and right on campus.
- Use your classmates as resources. I’ve found reviewing homework and studying with my classmates always helps me understand the material better.
- Take advantage of extracurricular and volunteer math opportunities through the Chapel Hill community, not just through UNC. While UNC has a lot of great math resources, clubs and opportunities, my favorite math extracurricular has been tutoring high schoolers in a local Chapel Hill tutoring center.
- Develop relationships with your professors and learn about career opportunities through them. They don’t just teach—most also do research and have other math-related jobs you may not even know exist. For example, one of my professors also works for the International Monetary Fund. When you learn more about what your professors do, you also discover new career pathways and establish a connection for networking.
Meet Gabriela Pickett, a sophomore Dramatic Art and Advertising double major from Fort Myers, Florida.
Why Dramatic Art: “I always knew I wanted to be a drama major because of my love for being on stage.”
Dramatic Art outside the classroom: “I am passionate about the performing arts and the theatre companies at Carolina have given me many opportunities to grow in this craft. In my free time, I also like to participate in the UNC Swing Dance club—I really wanted to learn this new skill when I came to college!”
Dramatic Art goals: “I hope to one day incorporate my love for acting into a career. The Drama Department at UNC inspires me everyday to follow this dream. My professors are actors too—I often spend my weekends watching them perform in professional shows with PlayMakers Repertory Company. I have found professors here who are willing to share their experiences while simultaneously pushing me to create my own positive theatrical experiences.”
Why Carolina: “UNC was the only school I toured that was multi-dimensional. Touring this campus made me feel like this wasn’t just a school—it was a life. Carolina students are happy people. I cannot walk through this campus without having someone smile at me or stop to chat. It’s this sort of positive energy that reminds me, even on my worst days, to stop and thank God I am a Tar Heel. No amount of research, statistics, or rankings will prepare you for how much Carolina can impact your life in areas you never even knew could be improved.”
Meet Dana Rodriguez, a junior Art History and Psychology double major from St. Louis, Missouri.
Why Art History: “I chose to pursue a major in Art History because I have a passion for art and my favorite hobbies include painting and drawing. Art History balances out the “science” side of my brain, and opens my mind to a very different skill set. However, both art and psychology can fall together very well.”
Favorite Art History extracurricular: “I received a Burch Fellowship for the summer of 2015. Through this program I conducted art history research in Spain and Italy during June and July of 2015.”
Why Carolina: “Carolina truly provides everything a new student is looking for as a home away from home. There are countless reasons why UNC consistently has the happiest students and the highest retention rates, but simply put, the people at UNC are special individuals, and no other school in the country has a better combination of an empathetic, intelligent, caring, and passionate student body.”
Meet Ankita Jain, a junior Pre-Med student from Gaithersburg, Maryland, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Biology and Chemistry.
Ankita chose to major in Psychology after taking AP Psychology in high school and becoming fascinated by the subject and its sub-disciplines. Ankita’s fascination with the subject led her to spend three summers interning at the Laboratory of Neuropsychology in the National Institute of Mental Health.
While Ankita considers her internship one of the most fascinating and eye-opening experiences she’s ever had, her internship also helped her clarify her career goals. After interning, Ankita realized she wanted to shift away from laboratory research and instead focus on anthropologically exploring the qualitative medical practices of the Eastern Hemisphere.
Ankita was able to delve more into this passion through her Burch Fellowship. She used her Burch Fellowship to spend last summer in Bali, Indonesia, exploring the performative customs of traditional medicine and spiritual healing with a concentration on the connections between medicine, music, and dance. Ankita hopes to continue to develop a worldview of clinical medicine and enroll in medical school following graduation.
Meet Raymond Blackwell, a senior from McLeansville, NC, majoring in Chemistry on the Polymer Track.
Why Chemistry: “When I was a senior in high school I took AP Chemistry and really liked it. That, combined with the reputation of UNC’s chemistry department, convinced me to pursue it as a major.”
Favorite Chemistry Class: “CHEM 470: Fundamentals of Materials Science. The class lies perfectly at the intersection of physics and chemistry. It combines physical chemistry, synthetic chemistry, electricity, and basically everything I love about both fields.”
Favorite Part About the Chemistry Major: “The seemingly endless research opportunities available. Seriously, you can do research in a variety of different subfields without feeling like you’re settling.”
Tip for Future UNC Chemistry Majors: “Get involved in research ASAP! I really can’t stress this enough—experience can make up for a low GPA in the job search or grad school apps. Moreover, it’s a great way to learn more outside the classroom, meet new people (especially since grad students are awesome), and figure out what you’re interested/not interested in.”
Research has been at the heart of Raymond’s Carolina experience. In addition to participating in numerous undergraduate research opportunities through UNC’s Department of Chemistry, Raymond’s had the chance to partake in research experience programs at different universities and spend time in other parts of the country. Raymond has participated in the MRSEC REU program at Northwestern University and the WAVE Fellows program at the California Institute of Technology.
Now, Raymond’s preparing to continue his chemistry studies at either Northwestern, Caltech, UC-Berkeley or UCLA. If you have questions about the chemistry major at UNC, you can reach Raymond at email@example.com.
Meet Grace Marquino, a senior from Wilmington, NC, double majoring in Biology and Mathematics
Why Biology: “I took BIO 101 with Dr. Hogan my first semester and she was a great teacher. I’ve loved science all of my life but the way she taught her class made me love biology even more and want to pursue the discipline more.”
Favorite Biology Class: “Anatomy and Physiology—I had an amazing professor and I really enjoyed being able to apply my foundations of bio and chemistry in order to figure out real-world applications and learn more about how your body functions and how certain diseases and treatments work.”
Favorite Part About the Biology Major: “The subject is really interesting, but also the professors have shown so much passion in presenting the subject matters that they’ve made me really excited to continue my studies.”
Tip for Future UNC Biology Majors: “Take advantage of the resources that most interest you—particularly the ones that are unique to a major research university like UNC.”
Grace has used her biology background to partake in a variety of extracurricular opportunities while at Carolina. The summer after her sophomore year, Grace worked in Washington, D.C., with nonprofit Genetic Alliance. Genetic Alliance works with disease groups and encourages research and participation in clinical trials to find treatments for genetic diseases. During her summer, Grace got to learn about new, innovative clinical trials and research efforts surrounding different diseases.
Grace spent last summer teaching anatomy, physiology and medical ethics to 9th and 10th graders through Duke’s TIP Program. Grace was in the classroom teaching and leading the program’s lab component five days per week, directly applying everything she learned in her UNC courses and passing on that knowledge to bright and enthusiastic high school students.
Currently, Grace is spending one day per week shadowing at Duke’s Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center. Shadowing and collaborating with Duke’s medical school is allowing Grace to learn more about simulation and how it’s used in medical classrooms. She’s able to see another side of health sciences, while her background in anatomy and physiology acquired at UNC is helping her better understand the simulation process and the work that goes into creating these cases for medical students.
Following graduation, Grace plans on focusing on health sciences, exploring opportunities in nursing, PA school, genetic counseling or education. If you have any questions about the Biology major at UNC, you can reach Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PhD candidate Mugdha Gokhale’s innovative healthcare research has earned her a spot on Forbes’ prestigious “30 Under 30: Healthcare” list. Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” lists honor the brightest young entrepreneurs, creative talents and change agents in a variety of sectors.
Mugdha’s original healthcare research utilizes large health databases to study the safety and effectiveness of medicines in the real world, beyond the impervious environments of clinical trials. Mugdha’s research aims to answer a range of important drug safety questions, like whether new antidiabetics increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, for example.
Mugdha is a PhD candidate in the Department of Epidemiology in UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health. Congratulations to an outstanding Tar Heel!