JAN. 10, 2016 — Throughout high school, I debated about my future college major. I was pretty sure I wanted to do music, but at first, I was dead set on getting a degree in music industry or music business. I then transitioned to hoping for a degree in music production, but, realizing I didn’t have a lot of experience in mixing tracks, I decided to play it “safe” with a degree in music education. I interned with local music teachers throughout my senior year and really enjoyed my time — teaching band was definitely something I could see myself doing.
Anyone who knows anything about majoring in music ed knows it can be extremely difficult. Oftentimes, music ed majors are faced with high course loads and zero credit — but mandatory — classes, that, combined with education homework, music homework, and ensembles and individual practicing, can make this degree one of the most difficult to pursue. Most who start don’t finish in music education.
Despite all of this, I was comfortable teaching band. It was a career I could picture myself in, and it fit well with my future plans: I could travel across the country, without the need to be in a big city, and find jobs pretty much anywhere. It just seemed to fit.
I chose a small, private university, which, despite being in my hometown, has been long known for its music program prestige. It was originally founded as a music education school in the late nineteenth century, but it has grown into a full liberal arts college in recent decades. I chose a great school for my prospective major, and I miraculously was accepted. I had a ton of credits from AP and dual enrollment classes in high school (51, to be exact) – almost a junior standing — but in the music program, there were no shortcuts; I’d be there for four full years, regardless.
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I began attending classes last fall — a new freshman, with high hopes. I had a rough time in high school, and I had hoped that college would be different — but it wasn’t, really. Although I was attending college five minutes from my home, I’d never felt more out of place in my life. It was like a whole new world in my small town that I knew so well. It took some time to get used to, but eventually, I felt more comfortable.
I practiced clarinet as best I could, but I still was placed the lowest tier ensemble. This didn’t bother me at first, until I heard whispers about it from my classmates. My mindset was that I’d rather be the worst at the beginning, because that would mean I had the most room to improve.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep this outlook. I felt worse as the semester went on. I cried a lot in my truck on the way home, wishing I could be better, and wondering why I wasn’t. My confidence dwindled, so much so that a week before my semester clarinet jury, at a clarinet master class, I broke into tears in front of the rest of the studio. Despite their positive comments, I felt like a failure — like I wasn’t worthy of being there.
I knew I was worthy, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.
My solution to this was to get more involved and make more friends. My school sends out these weekly student life emails, and as I was skimming the newsletter randomly one afternoon, I saw that the school newspaper was hiring staff writers. Having been vaguely interested in journalism for years, I turned in an application. It was a just-for-fun decision that I made on a whim, but things only went up from there.
I really excelled at the paper. It was my niche. It was what I did best, and where I felt most comfortable. Even at my first staff meeting, I was at ease talking with my coworkers. They were the closest things to friends that I had at my university; I fit in with this motley group of mostly English and mass communications majors. This was where I wanted to be in college.
As I started to write more frequent articles, I got further engrossed with the paper. Soon, outside blogs began contacting me, asking me to write for them. I began being able to work as a writer and make enough money to pay what I needed to as a college student. This was really exciting. I started turning in more applications to other blogs, and getting more invitations to write. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Soon, I began to realize that I wanted to focus more on writing than I did on making music. I had always loved playing clarinet and being a musician, but there was too much stress in the competitive nature of college-level music. I started to consider adding an English minor, or even changing my major.
My family persuaded me to stick it out for the semester, and to continue to reevaluate the situation as time passed. As finals and juries came and went, I thought more about leaving my major. I loved the music ed faculty, and I loved the opportunities that I was presented, but I knew something wasn’t right; I just didn’t fit in like I hoped I would.
Over winter break, I found myself dreading practicing. Something I had once been full of passion for had lost its appeal. I felt like I had no other choice.
I began researching other majors — in particular, English and mass communications (a program whose director just happened to be the newspaper’s faculty supervisor). The course catalog showed classes that excited me. Upon further research, I even figured that I could graduate early even if I double majored in both. It seemed like a no-brainer.
So it was two weeks before the spring semester began, and I had decided to change my major. I started emailing all of these people at school looking for answers, and finally, I found the right people — and they were so excited to invite me into their school and programs. I felt wanted, but independent, like I was in control of my life and there wasn’t a set-in-stone schedule I had to follow. I even found out that I could still pursue a teaching licensure, which excited me even more.
Between juggling all the paperwork and planning that goes into changing your course of study, I had to break the news to my family. I got mixed reactions: some were happy for me, others skeptical of my seemingly sudden decision. This was a test, and I had to remain strong. I have yet to tell some of the other people — mainly past music teachers who were so excited to hear of me pursuing music education as a career. (I wish I knew what to say to them. I hate disappointing people — but I know this is the right move for me.)
Of course, I had a few nights where I stayed up wondering if I was ruining my own life, leaving so many amazing opportunities, and saying goodbye to everything I knew for a random passion that seemed to come out of nowhere. Was I ready for this? Was it really right for me? It was especially difficult because so many people said that we wouldn’t all make it to graduation in the music ed program, and I was so sure I’d be one of the ones who did. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t a failure — I’d made Dean’s List for crying out loud — I just realized that what I thought I wanted didn’t turn out to be my calling after all.
Some people never discover their calling in life. Maybe I did, maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, but either way, I know I’m pursuing something that makes me happy, surrounded by people who accept me and make me feel like I belong. That’s all this whole life thing is about anyway, isn’t it?
Did you change your major in college? Share your story in the comments below!