Four years is a suggestion, not a rule
Photo Courtesy of Mia Thompson
I’d thought I had a rock-solid sense of myself when I started my freshman year at Hofstra. I was hard-working and determined to succeed. Having taken and enjoyed every social studies course my high school offered, I decided that political science would be my field of choice. I found government fascinating, I religiously checked the CNN application on my phone for news and I could recite the presidents backward all the way to Herbert Hoover – what else could I possibly do with my life? Studying political science had to be the answer for me.
This didn’t mean that I didn’t have doubts about this strategy – in fact, I had plenty. I knew I loved the field of political science. I enjoyed what I was learning and was engaged in the material. The problem was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my political science degree once I left Hofstra.
I ignored the fact that none of the career paths typical of a political science degree interested me and forged ahead, mapping out future class schedules and trying to delve into my major as much as I could.
I told myself that it didn’t matter that I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduating. To me, that was a problem that could wait until after I had completed the degree. Going to college and graduating was all part of the plan. If I was following the plan, everything would have to just work out eventually, right?
Spoiler alert: This was not a good approach. My strategy of delay-and-ignore worked pretty well until midway through the spring semester of my sophomore year, when I woke up one day and realized that pursuing a degree that would set me up for some kind of job I didn’t want was a terrible idea. I’d spent so much time and effort trying to do the things and make the choices I thought I was supposed to that I hadn’t been making sure I actually liked what I was doing.
I knew I needed to make a change and, after bouncing around departments for a couple months, ended up with a brand-new major in television production and studies. I felt confident about my television major in a way that I never had about political science – I could see myself pursuing and enjoying a couple of careers in the field.
Despite my newfound interest in and possibilities surrounding my new major, there was a catch here as well. As a result of all the new requirements and prerequisites staring down my DegreeWorks page, I would need to take an extra semester to complete my bachelor’s.
As a former hyper-focused, hyper-stressed high school student, I paid a lot of attention to deadlines and other markers throughout my academic career. The realization that I would need to take an extra semester to complete all my requirements while allowing myself enough time to work, join extracurriculars, look for internships and not go insane was a difficult one. I spent a lot of time embarrassed by the fact that I would need to stay in college for nine semesters rather than eight. Needing extra time felt like a rebuke on my character, a sign that I’d failed.
It took a while for me to stop thinking this way. So few people take extra time to finish up their degrees that, to me at least, it comes with a negative connotation. It’s assumed that if you needed extra time, you weren’t smart or capable enough to graduate after the requisite four years.
This is, of course, entirely false. When you graduate doesn’t have any bearing on how smart or worthy you are. Only when I let go of the idea that I had to be done with my degree full-stop in four years or less and began pursuing what I liked, regardless of whether it seemed like the best decision on paper, did I actually begin to enjoy being in college. I started picking up extracurriculars that I actually wanted to do, and my entire outlook on college changed. For the first time, I was really happy with what I was doing.
It’s cliche, but everyone figures out what they’re supposed to be doing in their own time. Most people figure it out in four years; some need a little more or less than that. Simply having a plan for your time in college doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good one or the right one for you.
Making choices based on what I thought I was supposed to do in the long term ended up making me unhappy. If you rush yourself to get through college before you’re ready to be done, odds are you’ll miss out on experiences or opportunities that are good for you. Ignore the arbitrary deadlines and go at your own pace.