Back in 2014, first-year students Jessie Howard and Michael Scott were nearing the end of their inaugural semester at UW-Madison, and contemplating the heavy decisions that often weigh on students at that time.
Howard was debating whether to follow her heart and explore a path in theater and drama or pursue a double major in chemistry and German. Scott, meanwhile, wasn’t sure where his interests in physics, computers and music might lead.
Knowing that Howard and Scott were hardly alone in finding such decision-making overwhelming — with more than 60 possibly majors in the College of Letters & Science, how could it not be? — we asked readers to weigh in with advice for these first-year liberal arts students. Thirty respondents to that original story offered thoughtful and supportive answers.
Wondering where this advice may have led them, we checked back in with Howard and Scott.
What did you think of the advice that commenters left for you on the article back in 2014?
JH: The ones that said to follow your dreams actually grounded me a lot because I really thought about what it would be like to major in theater and how it would affect my life. I thought about what it would be like to be a professional actor as opposed to a community actor for fun in my free time, and I realized that that was something that fit more for me. Overall, what everyone had to say gave me a new perspective about what I was actually getting myself into.
MS: I thought the advice the commenters left was encouraging and kind, and it really indicated to me how much people want to see students succeed in their endeavors, whatever they may be. I got words of encouragement from close friends and total strangers alike.
I try to leave open as many doors of possibility as I can. Facing the prospect of making some of these decisions is a little frightening, but also exhilarating. I am ready to take all I have learned and, hopefully, better the world in some small way.
Michael, you had interests in computers, physics and music. Have you chosen a major?
MS: I am double-majoring in physics and computer science. Large-scale, I want to help better humanity’s understanding of the world, and small-scale, I enjoy what I do and find it really interesting.
Jessie, you were contemplating majors in theater and drama, as well as German and chemistry. What have you decided?
JH: Currently I am majoring in German and taking pre-physical therapy classes. I decided in the last year that I would love to be a physical therapist and took a couple of kinesiology classes to see what it was all about. It is totally possible to major in the liberal arts and still go to grad school in the sciences, and that’s exactly what I intend to do! Even if physical therapy doesn’t work out, I would be happy to do translation work in the future.
What’s it like having so many options to choose from?
MS: Daunting. It is daunting to stand on the precipice of real adulthood and realize how open-ended life really is. I have always striven to delay making decisions that will forever alter my future — I try to leave open as many doors of possibility as I can. Facing the prospect of making some of these decisions is a little frightening, but also exhilarating. I am ready to take all I have learned and, hopefully, better the world in some small way.
JH: It’s a little overwhelming, but once you start taking gen eds and classes that everyone has to take, you can get a pretty good feel for the type of work that you do best at and how you can use your skills in a possible major. For example, I feel very comfortable speaking in front of people, so that can aid me in my German major for when I have to give presentations in a different language. It’s a lot harder in German than it is in English to give a presentation!
Take at least one class a semester for your first year that you want to take purely out of interest. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to make that your career!
What are your graduation plans?
JH: I plan to graduate in the fall of 2018 or spring of 2019, [then] take a year off to work, volunteer, study for the GRE and shadow physical therapists. After that I’m planning on applying to physical therapy school.
MS: I intend to graduate in May of 2018 and either go directly to graduate school or work for a year or two in my fields and evaluate my options. I’m still not positive what I want to do for the rest of my life, and I want to try different paths out to better understand the possibilities of each. At this point, I am thinking either graduate school for physics or working in the private sector, perhaps in the medical industry or in big data.
Do you have any advice for first-year students wondering how they should chart their own path?
JH: Join clubs and read your emails about all of the fun things that are going on at campus. [And] take at least one class a semester for your first year that you want to take purely out of interest. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to make that your career!
MS: Do everything in your college career to the absolute best of your ability. As cliché as it sounds, learning more can only help you grow. Furthermore, college is a privilege so many people do not enjoy, and as such negligence in one’s studies is tantamount to disrespect to those less fortunate than we as students are. Keep an open mind about new ideas and new experiences, and everything will work out okay in the end.
Where it all began
Most L&S students will tell you, it's hard to choose a major! To read about how Jessie Howard and Michael Scott began navigating that path nearly two years ago, click here.