Most students come to college with a general idea of what they wish to do with their life, planning out the next four years in advance to try and keep these important developmental years in order. Then, many of these students change plans entirely and leave college with a completely different focus than what they came in with. The decision to switch majors and career goals is significant and the risks associated with making such a dramatic shift, particularly later in one’s own academic career, can deter students from focusing on their passions.
Before coming to UMBC in Fall 2014, Leon Gardiner went to earn his associate’s degree at Montgomery College, a community college in Montgomery County, MD. Like a majority of students, he believed that majoring in a STEM field would yield him the best opportunities for his future, so he chose to major in computer science. Leon’s high school encouraged students to find their major early, and Gardiner “got rolled into computer science” his freshman year.
However, once he “felt the horrors, deathless, and feelings of depression after only one semester as a comp sci major” after his first semester at UMBC, he decided to take a different course of action. Still hoping to work in a field relating to technology, Gardiner decided to move to information systems, with the rationale that, “There’s still coding, but it isn’t all about coding.”
Despite this switch, the option didn’t suit Gardiner either. “Programming wasn’t for me, it was hard and I was losing interest in this field that I thought I was going into since high school,” he said.
The Fall 2015 semester marked the last semester before Gardiner took some time off from UMBC, when the university placed him in a “suspension period” due to his academic performance. However, if he maintained a GPA above a 2.5 at another institution during his suspension, he would be allowed to apply for readmission at UMBC. Gardiner decided to go back to Montgomery College and after earning a 4.0 that semester, he got readmitted at UMBC.
Despite the hurdles Gardiner faced when first at UMBC, he decided that overall he did what was best for him. He said, “It’s never too late to change your major or stop going down a path you don’t want to go down if it’s not really right for you.”
Gardiner said that before this experience, “I was trying to force myself through these comp sci and IS majors because I knew that not only would I be able to work with computers, but I’d be able to make good money and probably not have to go to grad school.”
Upon returning to UMBC, Gardiner chose to major in psychology, feeling that his experiences with the variety of feelings and emotions that he went through over the last year as well as his social skills would make him perfect for a job in this field. “Since I was already unhappy with the classes I was doing,” said Gardiner, “Why would I want to rush and finish a major that I’m unhappy with to finish a job that I’m unhappy with?”
While Gardiner’s circumstances were unique, students all across the country encounter the same experiences that Gardiner has. Not everyone picks the right major when they start out, but an initial fear of the unknown keeps them from pursuing what they were born to do. For these people, Gardner had this to say, “Think about your own life, not your school life, your own life. What talents about yourself, what personality about yourself, what skills do you think shine brightly about you and then work to see how you can profit off of yourself.”
It’s never to late to change. Gardiner, at age twenty-three, learned later in his life, but he still knew what was best for him and made the active decision to improve his life. While it may have taken him a little longer than he would have liked, in the end, he’s there now.