Learn From Me: Switching Majors (twice!)
Updated: Oct 7
Guest Blogger, Jessica, Sociology, Class of 2021. Read her story and the many questions she asked to shape her own career path.
Being a first-generation, student of color, commuter, and woman, I felt like I was a minority of many standards on Lehigh’s campus. Looking around in the classes of my first semester, that feeling intensified. You see, when I first arrived at Lehigh, I was in the College of Business and Economics, undeclared, scared, and very confused. My family had chosen my path for me, and I was very uncomfortable, so I began to ask myself the important questions.
Why exactly am I in college?
What is it that I want to gain from this experience?
What classes do I want to take?
What is it that I want to do after I graduate?
As I thought about the answers to these questions I realized two things,
I did not want to major in anything in the Business school. I felt alienated by the competitive environment and out of place.
I really wanted to work with numbers in all forms: analyzing them, discovering what they mean, and understanding them. It seemed clear my academic path was leading me to Math.
Now that I had an idea of what I wanted to major in, I needed help figuring out how to use it. I went to the Center for Career and Professional Development in hopes of figuring out what to do with my life. I met with Andrea Reger, the career coach for the College of Arts and Sciences, four times that semester. Each time that I went, I felt better. She would pick my brain and see who I was by asking questions.
What are you interests?
Where do you see yourself?
What makes you happy?
At the end of each meeting, she would give me tasks, like reaching out to math majors and math alumni, using online tools to research careers, and spending some time in reflection about where my strengths were. I took her “homework assignments” seriously and I began taking the networking and career exploration steps she had taught me.
She encouraged me to get on Lehigh Connects and reach out to people who were in fields that interested me. For example, one alumni was using her math degree to do research for NASA. I wanted her advice on how she got established and utilized her Lehigh academics in her role.
My name is Jessica Batista and I am currently a sophomore leaning towards a mathematics degree at Lehigh. When I read over your profile I was intrigued by how you were able to be use your degree in such a fascinating way. If it is alright with you, I am interested in learning how you got into this type of work and what it is that you do? Thank you so much for your time and help.
Rachel wrote back and our conversation evolved to switching majors, classes she recommended, perspectives to consider, internships and how to continue networking on LinkedIn. This was just one of several conversations I had, with people from all different positions and experiences, but my questions stayed similar.
Can you tell me more about your work?
How did you know this was the career for you?
What made you choose your major?
How can I get experience in the field?
After talking to several people on Lehigh Connects I was determined to major in math, I knew I wanted to work with numbers and to solve problems, so I made the switch from Business and Economics to Arts and Sciences, and I felt a weight was off my shoulders.
In the College of Arts and Sciences, I was able to take fun exciting courses that like Calculus and Physics, courses I was not able to take in high school because of the little resources I had access to there. I knew that I was destined to work with numbers, analysis, and calculations, and so I declared my major as mathematics. As a math major, I had the opportunity to take courses that were challenging and fun, for me at least. I took the three calculus courses, some statistics, and probability courses. I was having an okay time with my major, but in the first semester of my Junior year, I came to a roadblock again. I was not happy in my classes, I was not doing well in my classes. I seemed to fall behind no matter how many hours I dedicated to it, no matter how much I loved the subject, it was not enough.
Throughout the Fall 2019 semester, I felt very uneasy about my major. I started to notice that the love I had for mathematics was not reflected in my grades. Luckily, I am a Career Intern at the Career Center enabling me to work with students from a variety of backgrounds pursuing various majors. On several occasions I would speak to students about their academic journeys during Career Lab. Numerous times I sat down with seniors who would share their stories with me, stories of how they switched majors and saw a difference in their grades because it was something they enjoyed. Several students shared how their mental health improved because they enjoyed the coursework they were completing. I heard them speak about change, change that I so desperately wanted but couldn’t get myself to make. Luckily, I had people around me who saw how unhappy I was with my major, and who took the time to talk to me.
At the end of the Fall semester my Junior year, a Professor kindly sat me down for an honest talk. She told me that she saw that I was a hard-working student who always came to office hours. She saw my dedication to the material but noticed that though I tried my best, I always seemed to fall behind. She told me that there are two types of people: those who are qualitative minded, and those who are quantitative minded. She suggested that I leaned more towards quantitatively minded people; people who may be good with mathematics up to and through a few calculus classes but people who also struggle with proof-based courses even when they try hard. She told me to really think about who I was as a person and what I feel is best for me. I truly appreciate this experience because she had been able to verbalize the same thoughts I was already having; she helped show me that the path I wanted wasn’t the path I needed to take. I felt happy when she told me this, but anxious because I knew the truth, I was not cut out to study the subject I loved.
This talk prompted me to return to working with the Career Center to understand my strengths, my values, my goals, the classes I enjoy, and even where I see myself in the future. I sat down with Andrea Reger and she helped me so much again. This time we went to a big whiteboard and made a mind map. She told me to come up with about five words that describe the work I want to do. Then to write the things that make me happy, the things I enjoy doing. I continued to then write words that branched off the previous ones, ones that I thought best described them. In the end, the board was filled will all kinds of colors, and words, but three words stood out: creative, ideas, and organization. Andrea was the one who pointed this out, she saw that these three words were written on the board more than once and they all correlated to one another. She then presented me with the different majors that allowed me to be creative, to be organized, and to let my ideas guide me. As she was listing them, one major stood out sociology. I felt relief once again. After the meeting, I did research on the sociology department and the different careers you can do with a degree, and when I gathered the necessary information I knew what had to be done.
In the first week of classes the second semester of Junior year, I walked into the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and declared my major, received a shirt, and went on my way, happier than I had been in a very long time. Since then I have been looking for different opportunities where I can develop my skills and strengthen my resume. I used the second semester of my Junior year to learn more about who I am and how I want to be in the future, doing this by working with professors, peers, and community leaders.
My advice to all Lehigh students is to take a step back, really think about who you are and where you want to be someday. If you feel uneasy about the path you are taking, come talk to the lovely people in the Career Center, they are so kind, caring, and determined to help you with your concerns. It is never too late to make a change, even though it may be scary and it may require you to throw your plans out the window. Change is not a bad thing, change can be beautiful.