Honesty about career prospects could save a lot of wasted time

It’s time to start being honest: not everyone in college can be what they think they want to be. Otherwise, we would have a billion rising medical school matriculants and quite the same number of students going to law school. The reality, at least in medicine, is this: a 2013 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows that in any given cycle less than half (roughly 42 percent) of initial applicants end up matriculating into medical school. This isn’t meant to be a “look to your left, look to your right” speech, but it would certainly be an injustice to education to not encourage my fellow students to continually remain flexible with their life plans.

The hysterics around remaining concrete in what you want to do for the rest of your life begins in part with the ever-growing pressure to “declare” what you want to do at the ripe age of 18, the average age of the first year college student. This leads to the strange sight of nearly all of the 300 students in an Intro to Biology course declaring themselves to be pre-med. As one can expect, a number of those students will (for a number of reasons) be unfit to continue the journey, and the hope is that those people realize the predicament early enough to find a better-suited passion and chase after these new dreams. However, oddly enough, more students will continue down the path, play by the rules, do the song and dance, and when they realize that they actually have no passion for medicine, it seems far too late to turn back. It is that person whom you pray does not end up responsible for your care.

Unfortunately, this occurrence of feeling gridlocked into a particular path is not by any means limited to pre-health students. Anecdotal evidence tells me that there are probably an equal number of future lawyers, teachers, engineers, researchers, etc. who wake up every morning and feel no passion, no fire about what they will accomplish that day. They see themselves in a given field 10 and 15 years off and feel no joy about the prospect of doing their job. It is these people who need an intervention early on, in freshman and sophomore year of college, to let them know that it is always okay to go hunting for a something that will light a fire inside of them, regardless of what other people may think.

Many people reading this may be in the situation described and feel as if they need to stay on a certain track in order to save face. However, saving face is never worth four or five years of wasted time. These college years that we have all been privileged enough to experience are meant to be cherished and seized, and that is impossible to do if you are only here studying what you are studying for no more reason than that you feel as if you need to be. You have a rare opportunity at your fingertips while here. You have the opportunity to find something that you love, something that excites you and drives you each day and make it into your reality. Those people who aren’t fortunate enough to stumble into higher education would surely not spend four years here doing something that makes them unhappy. So, go. Seize the day; seize the moment. Wake up each day with an open mind and an open heart. 

A.J. James is a senior majoring in biology. His column runs biweekly.

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