Recently, I read a post by a friend of mine* which has some good advice for students who haven’t yet picked a major… It’s long, but it’s got some good commentary about tangible versus intangible skills, why you should pick a major that focuses on tangible skills, and why that’s important, even though more majors teach (and more potential jobs require) intangible skills over tangible ones. Overall, I recommend it to those who’ve gotten into a good school and now aren’t sure what they want to do with their time there.
* We’re not really friends, but we were never not friends (that is, we were never enemies), either, if that makes sense, so I’m going to assume the best until he says otherwise.
What interested me, however, was his rundown of what he did in college, how he placed upon graduation, and what he’s doing now. I knew him our freshman year, for Christ-sakes; I think it’s okay for me to be interested, right?
Well, I was screwed up in college. Personally, I mean. I did decently in classes and even managed to get a close friend or three out of the deal, but in my head, I was screwed up. My story, compared to his, isn’t as idyllic. (Maybe he’s sugar-coating it, I don’t know, but I’m not given that impression upon reading his post.)
Unlike my friend, I was not pre-med. I never intended to be pre-med, and I never had any intention of saving the world, at least not through medicine. I wanted to take the world by storm, and not just one person at a time. At first, I wanted to go into politics or linguistics. I’d participated in consciousness-building workshops, political how-to discussions, and awareness rallies. I wanted to make things better for the people around me, and I wanted people to stand up and take notice of the injustice in their lives and around the world.
I entered my freshman year as an undeclared government/German language double major. I’d taken three years of German in high school and wanted to continue my studies. I quickly discovered, however, that I had no idea what I was doing in college, especially since the entire point of my school existence up to that point had been to just get into college. I didn’t know what to do once I’d achieved my high school goal. I’d gotten into college, I was thinking to myself, now what? I had no life goal beyond that. It wasn’t as though I was expecting my life to end or something, I just hadn’t entertained any thought beyond getting in.
My grades plummeted. I went from being a 3.67 student, as I’d been in high school, to less than a 2.67 student. I had trouble attending class without an external motivator. By the end of my first semester, I was thrilled just to have earned three Cs and a B, so fearful was I of outright failure. My downward spiral didn’t end there. I was depressed and I didn’t know why—I’d been depressed for so long it felt almost normal. My over-active imagination told me things that were obviously not true, and I convinced myself and no doubt my hallmates that something was wrong with me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, except that I was falling apart, and I was watching my grades fall apart with me. Second semester, I managed to pull myself together enough to earn three Bs and a C, but the damage was done. I would never be an excellent student, as I’d once been.
Sophomore year might’ve been my sophomore slump (pdf), as my friend mentions, but if it was for me, it was just a continuation of freshman year. My roommate didn’t return to my school for personal reasons, I pledged a sorority, and my grades continued to fall. I’d had a rough summer between freshman and sophomore year, but I’d insisted on returning to school despite my limitations. I knew what I was dealing with this time around, but I still had trouble attending classes, and I started self-harming. I got mixed up in some nasty business that I just barely managed to get myself out of more than a year later. I thought I was able to handle it, but it came back to bite me in the ass and I realised there was no way I could go into politics, at least not successfully. I ran up credit card debt like I’d been handed a free pass to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
By the end of the year, I was worse off than I had been my freshman year. I earned two Bs and two Cs the first semester with the help of my pledge sisters and my boyfriend at the time, but the second semester I had to withdraw from a course for missing too many class sessions. My cumulative GPA hung in the balance around 2.4, much to my chagrin. I knew that language was not my forte, having earned only Cs in two semesters of German my freshman year, and politics was out. I had to pick a new major, or majors, and it the time to declare was fast approaching.
I was determined not to let things fall apart anymore than they already had. My GPA was comparatively pitiful—I’d never had such a crappy time academically in my life. I took a class over the summer and, thankfully for my self esteem, earned an A. I knew, then, that getting good grades was still possible, if not probable. At the beginning of my Junior year, I declared a double major in English and History, which seemed to be the path of least resistance. The first semester, I pulled off a 3.25 GPA and raised my cumulative GPA to almost 2.6… Things were looking up. But getting it to just a 3.0 was going to prove impossible. I relapsed into depression and over-imaginative thinking my second semester and had to withdraw from another class. My sorority sisters and friends didn’t really know how to help me, and I didn’t know how to help myself. I was lost. Nevertheless, I earned straight B minuses despite failing to attend class regularly.
The summer between my Junior and Senior years, I stayed on campus and took two courses in order to catch up and graduate on time, poor grades or no. The first semester of my senior year, I did well. I was living off campus with an apartment-mate who I liked, and I had an on-campus job that allowed me to make classes a priority. Somehow, though, I did poorly my second semester. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I wasn’t that I wasn’t smart enough. I just wasn’t applying myself as much as I could. I realised half way through my second semester that I was going to fail if I didn’t do something different. I had to start attending classes regularly. I had to. Despite my depression and mental issues, I talked with my professors and managed to pull the last semester out of my hat with the same grades as I’d started with: three Cs and a B. You have no idea how grateful I was just to be able to walk across the platform and accept my degree. I was ashamed at how out of control everything seemed to have gotten, and I was determined not to let it hold me back.
During my Senior year, I applied to numerous graduate schools and was accepted into a few, despite my poor grades. I began attending one for Creative Writing shortly after graduation and have since earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a cumulative GPA of 3.67. In attending graduate school, I was back to the type of grades I expected and earned in high school, and for that, I was gratefully relieved. I really was smart enough; I just needed internal motivation, it seemed. I moved from Pennsylvania to New York and got a job as an executive assistant at a small non-profit organization in Brooklyn. I might still have that job if it wasn’t for the crappy economy falling on us at exactly the most inopportune moment. I was laid off through no fault of my own and struggled to stay afloat without an income in New York for eight months before giving in and moving home to California.
Now, I’m in the spot about which my friend warns: “While D does stand for ‘Degree,’ it also increases the probability that you will be ‘Dependant’ [sic] on your others for shelter which may mean living in your parents’ basement.” I’ve only ever earned one D in my life, and that was in Junior High, but the principal remains the same: I’m still out of work, graduate degree or no, and I’m living with my parents. It’s embarrassing to admit that because I feel like I should’ve succeeded at taking care of myself by now, but no. I have a different problem than my friend; he wants to change jobs, I want a job in the first place. I’m working to remedy the situation, but finding work in this economy isn’t easy. I wonder if he has any good advice for someone like me?