When you start applying to college, people will ask you what you want to do, what you want to major in, and where you want to be in four years. I don’t know whose idea it was to ask a 17-year-old such deep questions on a nearly daily basis. Some teenagers know exactly where they want to be, how they’re going to do it, and how to articulate it all back to an aunt they see every two years, but most don’t.
Most teenagers have no idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Some of the most brilliant students I know still have no idea, and that needs to be okay. Having no idea what you’re doing is actually a good thing. Hear me out, when you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re probably going to try a lot of new things. The more new things you try, the more likely you are to discover your interests and figure out what exactly it was all for.
My cousin is a few years older than me, and there’s no question that she’s brilliant. She’s hardworking, got good grades in high school, and was involved in lots of clubs. Here’s another thing about her - she had no idea what she wanted to do for a career. She bounced between accounting and business, but neither was REALLY what she wanted to do. They were just placeholders and answers for the age old question, “What do you want to do?”
She spent her first year of college studying business. It was interesting, sure, but it wasn’t something she got excited about. It wasn’t until she nannied over the summer that she realized she wanted to work with children. She changed her major to education and child psychology, and she’s never looked back. One day she’ll be a school psychologist for an incredibly lucky group of children.
You might not be like my cousin. You might know what you want to do right now. You might have figured it out in elementary school. That’s fantastic! Just don’t let that limit your opportunities to discover new things. Trying new subjects might not change your path at all, but you’ll know definitively that your path was right for you from the start. That will bring a whole new level of comfort to your life after college.
If you’re still hesitant about not knowing, try an exercise with me: Close your eyes. Think about the person you are now, and think about the person you want to be in ten years. What do these two versions of yourself look like? How are they different? A lot of personal goals will manifest right then and there. Maybe you want to be a medical resident. Maybe you want to have your own family. Maybe you want to see every country with your dog and take pictures at the top of Mt. Everest. All of those are great goals to have, and now you have them at the forefront of your mind. All you have to do now is figure out how you’ll get there.
Trying new things is what college was made for. It might change your direction, and that’s okay. That’s the point. Your path might split a thousand ways and you’ll still end up where you need to be. It’s okay to answer, “I don’t know” to “The Question.” When others inevitably ask in what direction you want to go, say “I’ll find out.” Because you will, I promise.
Spread your paper wings,
C.I.A. (Creative Intern Assistant)
NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Class of 2025