I was a first-semester freshman when I had my “epiphanical” moment. Sitting in a calculus class listening to my professor drone on about the value of Sigma, I was overcome by dread, and then it came to me: I hate this. It took the rest of the semester to extricate myself from a future as a math teacher; it took another semester to discern that I wanted to study journalism, and still another semester to convince my journalist father that this was not a dead-end path to unemployment.
So, I speak with personal experience in addition to my decades as an academic adviser when I caution parents that, now that the excitement of the new academic year has been tempered with the reality of homework and tests, we are heading into the annual period of student self-doubt.
Some students are simply fatigued from cramming information and big ideas into their heads. They just need some time away from studying and a few stress reduction techniques and they will be fine. Other students face the realization that their plan of study and their career goals need adjustment.
I call it the “epiphanical moment.” You won’t find that term in the OED, but it’s my way of capturing the “aha!” moment students need to have when reality hits them.
Here at Seton Hall we try to facilitate a student’s personal epiphany with outreach through the Career Center and interaction with a student’s mentor or academic adviser. Our new Sophomore Center (in Mooney Hall 14) works with all second-year students but gives special attention to the sophomores who are directionless. We know that sophomore year is especially crucial because students are pushing up against the credit limits so that lack of a major will delay graduation or prevent them from registering for classes.
For our first-semester freshmen, this fall semester often serves as a reality check. I’m not the only freshman to realize I hated my major. In the first semester of college, the course work intensifies and students need to make a leap to a higher level of math or science if their dream of med school is going to happen. Many students realize that they don’t have the grit or the inclination to sustain the intense seven years of study to be a doctor.
I use the doctor example because that is the most common epiphany we see in freshman year. If all the people who thought they wanted to be doctors as high school students actually became doctors, we would have a huge physician glut in the United States. Instead, we see a natural weeding out of all but the most passionate. This process happens in all the disciplines, but is most prevalent in the sciences, perhaps because the course work is so intense.
If your son or daughter is going through this epiphany, you can support them by listening and encouraging. And know that this annual reshuffling of dreams and life goals is a natural part of the maturation process. Very few of us are actually working in the jobs we aspired to as children.
Urge your students to meet with their mentor, to visit The Career Center and to take advantage of workshops and guidance that is available to all students. There’s a major out there for everyone; sometimes it just takes a little insight and coaxing to figure out what it is.