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Dear Frosh: I wish I stressed less about my major

Jenna Johnson

Today's advice for college freshmen is from Jen Howver, owner of VOD Communications in the Chicago suburbs who attended Judson College.

I wish I had known that my major really wasn't all that important.

After all, I wasn't pursuing anything that required special training that would be important for saving a life or diagnosing a mental illness or teaching children to speak another language.

Jen-Howver.jpgI started out as a journalism major, and even that decision was a grueling one to make. In my senior year of high school, I agonized over what to study when I went to college. I wanted to be a marine biologist and work with dolphins and whales, but I wasn't all that good at science. (What nobody ever told me was that a majority of marine biologists actually study psychology ... not science!) I wanted to be a writer, but a degree in writing felt like it would qualify me to get paid for just about nothing. So I went with journalism as my major -- for a semester.

Long story short, I went on to study adolescent development, spent a couple years working with troubled teens and kids with special needs, and then wandered into a marketing assistant position at a publishing house.

I didn't know much about marketing, but I was organized and eager to learn (and looking for something less mentally and emotionally draining than the work I'd been doing with kids).

Fast-forward to ten years later, and here I am, the owner of my own marketing company. And I have countless friends who studied one thing, only to wander through life and find themselves doing something totally different (which they also completely love doing!). So all the stress and worry about a major, unless you're doing something like medicine, law or education, really isn't worth it in the end.

We all manage to find our way into something we love -- whether we were formally trained for it or not.

What do you wish you had known as a freshman? E-mail me your short essay (less than 300 words) and it might be featured on the blog. Read previous essays here.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  |  September 15, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  College 101  | Tags: Dear Frosh, Judson  
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Next: Dear Frosh: I wish I'd known about life's twists

Comments

I wish I had not caved to family pressure to do something practical. I was torn between two sides of the family. One side, the academically oriented ones, seemed to be saying, “Don’t get stuck doing something that you hate.” Then there was my father’s side of the family with a long history of family businesses which were mostly general stores and professional practices, such as my older brother who had just gotten into medical school. Since Dad held the purse strings, I transferred out of the College of Arts and Sciences into the Business School. Though there were a few isolated semesters of interest on my part, most of it was so dry that I eked out Cs in most of my classes. Those requiring math, in ,which I had done poorly in high school were total disasters, which I dropped and then retook only to eke out a C. Six years later it was over and I had a basically worthless piece of paper that said that I barely made it. No employer wanted a C student who dropped a lot of classes and re taken them. I got stuck in a customer service job that I hated.

Finally, the family said accounting would be the thing to do. Pass the CPA exam and become a professional. Another year of suffering followed in a field that I was ill prepared due to the math content. Though I had taken only one language course in Poutunghua, I applied to study Cantonese,so impractical, in Hong Kong. Quietly, I quit the accounting program, and went to work at a fast food chain in Atlanta. My brother thought that I was cutting ties with the family. Finally I bolted for HK and completed the program.

Majors are crucial to academic success.

Posted by: sinohog | September 16, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

How many college grads, including Ms. Johnson, wish now that before or during college they had read What Color Is Your Parachute or Wishcraft or similar books?

Posted by: jv26 | September 16, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm hardly a freshman( 4th year Junior, transfer student). I will be graduating with a B.A in International Studies but will more than likely end up with a job in Marketing! This is because of internships that actually give real life experience! So majors are not everything.

Posted by: beltwaybandit | September 17, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

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