I have spent the last six (yeah, six) years at the University of Kentucky culminating in the recent completion of my undergraduate degree in Information Communication Technology (ICT). I started out in Fall of 2012 planning to study computer science because I had done a project in high school that involved programming for video games, and I thought it seemed like a pretty cool idea at the time.
Towards the end of my sophomore year, I was given a wakeup call by a professor who said something along the lines of “Alright boys and girls, open up Visual Studio and select ‘New Project’. Now stop. That is most likely the last time that 90% of you will ever hit ‘New Project’ because odds are most of you will either not continue to complete your degree or you will spend most of your career working on other people’s projects. If that doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in doing, you’d best re-evaluate.” I thought about it for a few seconds, closed my laptop, got up, and walked out of the room.
The idea of sitting in an office with no creative freedom, working to perfect someone else’s brainchild, for the entirety of my professional career seemed like the worst way I could possibly spend my life. I have always hated the idea of not getting to be creative. It’s the whole reason I got into computer science in the first place. The rush I got from putting words, numbers, and symbols into some sort of logical sequence and then seeing something happen on the screen was pretty great — while it lasted at least.
Walking into my advisor’s office a few days later (after going through the arduous process of making a late-semester appointment), I knew I was walking into a conversation that would likely set my life back a year or two at minimum. Changing your major after your freshman year, much less going into your junior year, is not something that is generally recommended. That being said, I didn’t really care about how long it would potentially keep me in school. I knew that I wanted to figure out something that I could spend the rest of my life (or a good chunk of it at least) doing that wouldn’t make me miserable every day.
That exact sentiment is what I told my advisor. At that point, I expected to have a thoughtful conversation about what I enjoy doing in my free time, what things I’m good at, and other basic fundamental discovery questions about who I am as a person that would help determine my coursework going forward. Instead, it became about “what would give me the best odds of landing a job”, “what pays the most out of college”, “what’s in highest demand”, and “what you can transfer your existing credits towards”. That’s all well and good if I were just looking for any and all jobs that would pay me something in exchange for work. Unfortunately, none of that particularly matters to me at all.
I chose my first major path because it gave me an outlet to be creative and work with technology; two things that I genuinely loved, and still do. At every turn, every advising appointment, every meeting, every lecture, everything was about taking the traditional, pre-determined, structured path that I can only assume they felt that every student should aspire to follow. Nobody ever stops to ask the student, the one paying to attend school, what type of life they want to lead.
Many have asked why I decided to stick with it and finish my degree despite my frustrations with the system. The answer: I am truly thankful for my college experience as a whole. The most valuable parts of my education weren’t things I found in any lecture. The friends I made (and lost), the stupid mistakes I made, and everything in between are things that taught me more than any class I paid an exorbitant amount of money to be in. However, I have no doubt in my mind that I will almost certainly never make real use of the piece of paper I paid more than $60,000 (plus interest) to attain. I intend to work creatively, to make something that is my own, and to grow it as best I can. My biggest and only complaint is that the institution I invested so much time, money, and energy into would have [at any point] so much as asked me “What do you think will make YOU happy?”