Stop Saying Life Is Short: How I Changed Majors Five Times and No One Cares

Don't worry about having it all figured out from the start.

By Tim DeGrand July 12, 2022
Stop Saying Life Is Short: How I Changed Majors Five Times and No One Cares

When I started thinking about what to write for this blog, I reflected on my college experience up to this point. The highs, the lows, and things I’ve learned along the way. And when I think of the biggest lesson I’ve learned in that time, I am reminded of one of my favorite movies when I was a kid: “Men in Black.” (Stay with me, this is relevant, I promise.) The action, the humor, the aliens, the Will Smith, it was all great. The reason I bring it up now is because it is home to my favorite quote in movie history.

At one point, Tommy Lee Jones is talking to Will Smith and says, “1,500 years ago everyone KNEW the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago everyone KNEW the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago you KNEW that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

That is a remarkably profound thing to say in a silly alien action movie. However, I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot more recently, as my college experience has made it much more relevant to me than I had thought possible.

You see, five years ago I KNEW I was going to go to Michigan State for college. Four years ago I KNEW I wasn’t going to continue with marching band in college, and three years ago I KNEW I would graduate in 2023 with an engineering degree.

How did that turn out? Well…

I will graduate from the University of Michigan, being a four year member of the Michigan Marching Band, with a degree in psychology in 2024 after changing majors multiple times.

As it turns out, I didn’t know anything at all.

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Starting college is an exciting time, but one that often comes with immense expectation and burden. There’s this societal pressure to have it all figured out from the beginning. You have to have your major already planned out, probably a minor too while you’re at it, what internships or research you want to do, what kinds of jobs you want to have after college, if you’re gonna get married, have kids, where you want to live, everything. And, if at any point you don’t have everything on that laundry list of stressors figured out, you’re behind the curve and MUST figure it out ASAP.

That could not be further from the truth. There is no law that says college has to get done in four years, or that you have to stay in one major or anything else. I really wish someone had told me that when I was coming into college. If I had been told, I would have taken more time before declaring a major instead of pouncing on the first thing that seemed slightly interesting. I would have had an open mind when scheduling my electives and been more receptive to my budding enthusiasm for classes different from my usual STEM path. I may have even saved myself from some of the imposter syndrome and depressive episodes I experienced after questioning my place at the university.

Ever since I’ve accepted this truth and abandoned that damaging mindset, I’ve been able to enjoy myself much more in college. Because I knew I could change majors, I spent time exploring multiple different options, researching physics, education, English, kinesiology, all before finding psychology. Exploring different majors gave me a better idea of what I wanted to do: what classes I liked, what topics interested me, what kind of jobs I want to have, all those things. Armed with the answers to those questions, I was able to choose psychology not because it was the first thing that fell in my lap, but because I knew what classes they had that I was interested in, what that degree would allow me to do, and that I would enjoy the things I could now do.

And guess what? Even after exploring all those different degrees and not having a planned major for about a year, I’m still going to graduate in eight semesters. The only reason I’m sticking around for a fifth year is because I took a gap semester my sophomore year (which I desperately needed). You can take your time to find out what to do or change your mind and not have it cost you years of your life.

And even if it does take you a little longer, so what?

The biggest lie ever told is “Life is short.” Life is not short. Life is FRUSTRATINGLY long. Taking a fifth year of college, while maybe costing you financially, is not going to diminish job prospects, make you undateable, make your family disown you, kill your dog, destabilize the government, or cause the end of the world.

You are young. Your whole life is ahead of you.

Use it.

Tim DeGrand
Tim DeGrand

Tim DeGrand is a senior from Grosse Point Park, MI in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), majoring in psychology and minoring in music. On campus, he's the rank leader in the horn section for the Michigan Marching Band, and he also works with the tour guide office and Rec Sports team.