Why coming to university without a sweet clue about what you want may not be such a bad thing

First year MUN students seem to be stubbornly divided into two groups: the decided and undecided. The first know exactly what degree they will pursue, what they’ll do with that degree after graduation, if and when they’ll get married, and how many kids they’ll have. The rest, like me last year, have no clue what they’re doing. But being clueless students is hardly a bad thing. And, if you think you’re hopelessly undecided, I have a story that might cheer you up.

When I was in my final year of high school I was stressed about going to university because I lacked an all-encompassing passion that I felt driven to pursue. My friends seemed to have their paths completely figured out: Some were dedicated music-majors-to-be, some physics-lovers excited to start in engineering, etc. I, instead, just enjoyed most things in school and had a variety of extracurricular activities rather than a single dominating interest.

I thought I wanted a career related to healthcare with flexibility of working conditions and that gave me the ability to do scientific research. Nursing seemed like a logical choice. I applied and was accepted before graduating from high school.

Upon receiving my acceptance, I was ecstatic. I could finally put my worries to rest. As long as I worked hard I was positive that I could help others and have an enjoyable career. Nursing met all of my criteria. But, for some reason, a sense of dread overcame me almost immediately after accepting my offer. After struggling with feelings I couldn’t quite place, I declined the offer. I wish the story stopped there.

Immediately after declining, I was again rife with panic. My mom, desperate to help me decide, told me that nursing was a great degree that would open many doors. It was late on a Friday that I asked to decline my offer, but during the weekend I anxiously decided to contact the school again to see if I could keep my spot. I was told that I could, but that this was a one-time exception.

But, despite trying to muster enthusiasm about attending university, I felt unexcited. I repeatedly told myself that nursing was a fantastic degree, that I would be around lovely people with similar interests, and that my coursework would be engaging. Yet I still did not want to study nursing.

I—admittedly feeling sorry for the admissions officers—contacted the nursing school for the final time to leave its undergraduate program. I signed up for general first-year science courses and put my mind to rest. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do: I would just have to work hard and wait and see what caught my interest.

I loved my first term at university. My courses challenged me and cultivated my interest in pursuing science. And I found a subject that grasped my attention: Math. I had attended the Medical Youth Summer Program at the University of Toronto in high school and remembered being introduced to biostatistics and epidemiology. This could be my passion, I thought. I researched the field and signed up for a statistics major (probably prematurely considering that I hadn’t yet taken a statistics course).

In my second term I took statistics and absolutely loved it, but I also loved chemistry and psychology. One of the only extracurriculars I hadn’t sacrificed when I came to university was the volunteering at St. Clare’s Hospital that I had done since high school. And this volunteer work kept providing me with anecdotal reminders of why I wanted to work in healthcare: Because I love helping people. I knew research ultimately helps people too, but I wanted my career to have a hands-on aspect.

So—yet again—I began re-evaluating my undergraduate studies. In pursuit of an opportunity to study science that could give me opportunities to conduct research and work directly with others, I applied to the School of Pharmacy.

I would like to say that everything was dandy after that decision, but in truth I wrestled with conflicting thoughts about how this decision would shape my life. I had job-shadowed a pharmacist and done extensive career- and soul-searching. By the time of interviews in June, I was convinced that a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy was the best option for me.

Personally I think it’s silly for students to make claims like, “There is absolutely nothing else I want to do if I don’t get into-” any given- “program.” Even applying to pharmacy, and badly wanting admission, I reassured myself that I could still work hard and have a rewarding education and career if I was not accepted. Thankfully I was admitted, so I didn’t have to wrack my brains to find a new path because, if you’ve been reading closely, you know that I’m really bad at that.

Ultimately, my point is that you don’t necessarily have to know exactly what you want for things to work out. I had friends who wanted to study certain programmes for all the wrong reasons: not because they were interested in their chosen fields or looked forward to the opportunities their degrees would bring, but because they felt their decisions were logical in the same way I felt studying nursing would be.

So work your butt off because, after being exposed to exciting ideas and realizing your goals and interests, you’ll be glad you did. Not only will you then have found a path, you’ll be more than prepared to pursue it. Have a fantastic first year!

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