Liu: Passion should not dictate major choice


Photo illustration: Tiffany Herring/Iowa State Daily

t does not come as a surprise that most college students would switch majors several times. When we discover a spark of interest in a subject, we immediately think that we have found our calling. But when the spark fades, we can begin to panic.  

Cara Liu

Whenever I had to do those dreaded self introductions at the beginning of the semester, I would always say my name, my major and when it comes to year, I could not help but add the word “super” to my senior status. It is as if I wanted everyone to know I am a senior who cheated the system and took an extra year in college. As any super senior will tell you, the number one reason why most student do not graduate in four years is because they change their minds about their majors at least once, if not multiple times.

Why is it that we have such a hard time deciding on a major? According to a recent National Center for Education Statistics report, Iowa State has a 4-year graduation rate of 39 percent, compared to a 6-year graduation rate of a whopping 71 percent. According to the same source, about 80 percent of college students in the country switch majors at least once, and most, on average, will switch three times before they graduate. What our guidance counselors and the media tell us is that we must “follow our passion,” or else, they warn, we will live a miserable existence in an office cubicle. The problem with that is most of us do not have pre-existing passion for a field of which we have little knowledge.  

Cal Newport, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of several best-selling books on how to succeed in school, most of which were published when he was still an undergrad at Dartmouth College. Since he was a computer science major, he liked to examine the formulas that made legendary scientists, engineers, writers or artists so prominent in their work and whether they chose their respective fields because they had a “passion” for it. Through several interviews with notable professionals and citing his own personal experience, Newport concluded that passion really has nothing to do with one’s satisfaction with their career.

I have changed majors twice throughout college. I was a film major while in California, having been enchanted with the magic of movies for most of my life. I wanted to become a screenwriter. However, the reality of the industry slapped me hard in the face when my first screenplay for a short film was botched by the director. By that time, I was already in my sophomore year, and I just wanted an easy major that would allow me to graduate on time.

A friend told me that the requirements for English Education takes less than two years to complete, and since English was my favorite subject in high school, I thought I could give it a shot. But being an English major required more reading and literature analysis than I was ready for, and I quickly retreated in fear that this was what I would do for the rest of my life. Through my parents’ pleas and the fact that I was to be a super senior, I decided to settle for my current major in Linguistics. Even now I still wonder if I have chosen the right major.

It does not come as a surprise that most college students would switch majors several times. When we discover a spark of interest in a subject, we immediately think that we have found our calling. But when the spark fades, we can begin to panic.  

Newport points out that this kind of doubt stems from the false belief that if one doesn’t feel passionate about their subject, it is not the right path for them. Many students start to question their passion when their get tired of their chosen major, because they did not think about the amount of hard work and knowledge required before they are able to make those exciting contributions to their industry and gain public attention. The secret to being happy with our jobs lies not so much in our choice of the industry as it is the amount of autonomy we have in our jobs and our sense of accomplishment. In that vein, there really is no “right” major.

As the first century philosopher Epictetus said, “In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist.” Passion, like fireworks, is a brief affair. Long-term enjoyment of your career requires good ol’ hard work. When you accumulate enough experiences under your belt to make an impact, passion will surely follow.