Creating Your Own Story

College is an opportunity for self-discovery.

By Bailey Burke February 20, 2023
Creating Your Own Story

When I first got to Michigan, I was undeclared in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. I had an idea of what I wanted to study, but it was intimidating that everyone around me seemed to have exact plans for their major and life: Every class was planned, they were already building their resume, and they seemed miles ahead of me. And if you’re that person — the one who comes into college having everything figured out — great. But know that plans change a lot here.

As I approach the end of my senior year, I’ve realized that almost everyone is still figuring things out in college. Even the people who had their five-year or 10-year plan have had to adapt, especially when COVID hit. My time in undergrad has been anything but straightforward. But I’ve learned that these years in college are such a precious opportunity for self-discovery, and that it’s OK to still be figuring things out. In fact, it’s good to be open to change. As I reflect on these past three and a half years, I want to assure you that there’s no use in comparing yourself to those around you. You have a unique story to create, and the uncertainties are an opportunity.

For those of you who are just beginning your college journey — as well as those of you who are rethinking your trajectory — I want to offer some encouragement and tips for embracing the uncertainties.

1. Avoid comparison  

Your path will look different from everyone else’s paths. Even if you’re in the same major with the same goals, even if you’re carefully following in the footsteps of a parent or sibling. Your path is yours and yours alone. Both of my older brothers graduated from here, but my path and experiences are so different from theirs. And even their paths were different, despite the fact that they both majored in computer science. Just remember that you’re a unique individual, with skills and talents that you bring to the table in a way that only you can. So there’s no use comparing yourself.

2. Don’t let conventions get in the way of exploration

There’s a lot of pressure — once you’ve decided on a major and started to make plans for your future — that everything you do has to be helping you advance in your field of study. While it’s important to get internships and make connections that will further your future career, don’t let conventions get in the way of exploration during your college years. Join a club totally unrelated to your field of study, take a pottery class — really, truly explore. The University of Michigan has so, so much to offer. Take the unusual class that just sounds fun or interesting or weird. Get outside your comfort zone by joining a dance group or debate club. Some of the best classes I’ve ever taken haven’t counted for distribution or my majors. (I definitely recommend checking out some of the Residential College humanity classes if you’re looking for unique course options.) Know that your story isn’t about linear accomplishments, checking box after box. It’s about living and discovering who you are.

3. Embrace an interdisciplinary life

Sometimes we box ourselves into one or two things — “I’m an engineer,” or “I just study humanities,” etc. We limit ourselves when we do this. Don’t be afraid to be the engineer who minors in music, or the art major who learns a new foreign language on the side. Yes, it is more work to take additional classes. But think about what you’ll gain. I decided to double major (history and creative writing & literature) with a Spanish minor not because I’m indecisive (though maybe I am, a little bit), but because I learn so much from studying these different subjects together. I’ll learn something in a literature class that connects to my Spanish class, or I’ll use something I’ve learned about history to better understand how to write realistic characters in my fiction. Everything connects. If you’ve got multiple passions (which, as a lifelong learner, I hope you do), pursue as many of them as you can here. You never know — that interest that you thought was just a side hobby might just change your life.

4. Be open to change

I’ve heard that something like 75% of college students change their major at least once in college. I know a lot of people who came into college as premed, but now are on a totally different path. They took a class or met a professor who ignited a new dream within them. It can be scary to change your plans, especially if you have societal or familial pressures to get a certain degree. But if you’re open to change, if you’re willing to find what really excites you, your work and learning won’t feel burdensome. And if you’re undeclared — like I was — keep an open mind. There is a major (or two!) here that fits your interests, that will take you to new heights. Your plans might just change a few times in order for you to find it.

The University of Michigan provides more than just an education. This university will help you create epic adventures and subplots that you never saw coming. If you’re willing to explore, willing to venture outside your main plot, your character will develop in incredible ways. And you’ll have some amazing stories to tell.

Bailey Burke
Bailey Burke

Bailey Burke is a senior in the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts, pursuing majors in history and creative writing & literature, with a minor in Spanish. She is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bailey is in the Residential College, where she founded RC Letters Forum. She is also involved in campus ministry with St. Mary Student Parish and the Kateri Institute for Catholic Studies. She studied abroad in winter 2022 in Dublin, Ireland, and is hoping to travel after she graduates. In her free time, you can find Bailey reading, writing letters, and drinking tea.