Discovering a Personal Journey

I was born and raised in a small town in the central valley of California. With an opportunity to attend the University of California, Merced (UC Merced), I faced one of the most challenging question of applying to colleges, what is your intended major? Even with my previous experience in classes, community service and music, it was still unclear to me which major would best fit my future career goals. I was interested in working with people and supporting youth in communities, but these elements fit within a multitude of disciplines. I decided that it was best for me to take some time to try out different classes and see what I was passionate about; therefore, I enrolled at UC Merced as an undeclared student.

As a first-generation Chicana and daughter of immigrants, I often felt the pressure to have a clear path for my major and career field. With the support of my family, mentors and scholarship organizations, I did not want to waste any time or disappoint the many who supported my educational journey. During my time as an undeclared student, I was proactive in the search for a major by meeting with career advisors, going to conferences, attending workshops and speaking with people in the different fields. I connected with three mentors from the career and transition support departments and made it a priority to speak with them at least two times every semester. Despite this, every class registration period, I worried that the courses I signed up for would not fulfill degree requirements once I declared a major. Looking back now, every course I took, whether fulfilling my major or not, guided my path to pursue the education field. Above all, my student positions as a peer academic advisor for undeclared students and an orientation leader allowed me to see my passion for helping students and their families navigate the college transition.

Through my college experiences, I was drawn to the study of sociocultural anthropology and changed my major after originally declaring in chemistry. The field of anthropology focuses on the human experience through the human perspective, giving agency to local communities through ethnographies, archaeology, biology and storytelling. Now, as I look forward to my final semester as an anthropology major, I can see how this field of study will guide my ambitions for a career in education and administration.

There are thousands of career options to explore nationally and globally, and one major can lead to countless opportunities in existing fields and new fields that will develop in the coming years. Use the resources at your campus to choose a major that will allow you to study a field of your interest, while also preparing you for your next step in life. As a good mentor once advised me, the decisions you make about your career and education are choices that do not dictate where you will be for the rest of your life, just where your next step will be.

Yaqeline Castro was a Fall 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She is a graduate of the University of California, Merced.