The ‘What Do You Want to Be?’ Conundrum: Navigating Freshman Year Without a Clear Career Path

The questions, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” “What’s your major,” and “What are you looking to do after college,” HAUNTED me my whole life, especially when college came around and it felt like everyone but I knew exactly what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. However, I’m here to tell you as a rising junior that you do NOT need to know any of these answers and if you think you’re alone in your journey of navigating the crazy world that is college at UW-Madison, think again. Here are some insights and strategies for any incoming freshman at UW-Madison who are uncertain about their major and career paths, because once again you are NOT alone in this.

Bascom Hill in the winter of my freshman year (Photo by me)

Embrace the Exploration

UW-Madison is brimming with resources to guide you through its many opportunities. When class enrollment approached, I felt overwhelmed and unsure despite my advisor’s help. But I soon realized the excitement in not knowing. There’s no strict rule on which classes to choose—beyond prerequisites, of course. So, like me, you might find yourself diving into an unfamiliar compsci course (CS220), or indulging your curiosity in a drawing class that caught your eye.

  • (This page has all of the offered undergraduate majors and certificates and can help to just visualize your options)
  • (Undergraduate research opportunities that I wish I had known about sooner)
  • (I found so much comfort and happiness in volunteering at The Neighborhood Community Center, there are so many opportunities on campus and within walking distance. It’s a way to become more involved and maybe find a new passion while also giving back to our community)
A photo from when I volunteered at Neighborhood House for their Thanksgiving drive

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions – Advisors, peers, and even older students are always there to answer any questions you have. If you were to ask my advisor just how many meetings we have before class enrollment she’d say A LOT, and that’s ok because they’re here to help!

Join Clubs – Joining clubs and student organizations is such an amazing way to meet people with similar interests or possibly find something you never knew you were interested in. Wisconsin Involvement Network (WIN) is a great and easy resource that helps you find a range of clubs/organizations that pertain to your interests.

As you stand on the brink of your college adventure at UW-Madison, remember that it’s perfectly okay not to have all the answers right away. College is as much about discovering who you are as it is about achieving academic success. Each class, whether it’s in primate psychology (highly recommend if you’re a psych major – PSYCH450) or theater, every club meeting, and every new connection is a step toward understanding where your passions truly lie. Use these opportunities to explore, engage, and experiment with diverse interests. With each new experience, you’ll piece together a future that resonates deeply with who you are and who you aspire to become. So take a deep breath and dive into the unknown with enthusiasm and an open heart—your path will unfold one exciting discovery at a time.

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