I’m going to be a Chemical Engineer when I grow up.

At the start of my senior year in high school everyone around me had started seriously thinking about college majors. I was often asked what I was going to choose for my major, and I had no clue. I had a very broad range of “what I want to be when I grow up” over the years.

In early elementary school I wanted to be a pianist, even though I had never taken a piano lesson and had only a keyboard at home. The only thing I could play was “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the pre-programmed songs. I also wanted to be a teacher because I loved school and wanted to be just like the teachers I adored. Plus, my mom had been a math teacher prior to her current job as my dad’s office manager. I partially attribute my career as an engineer to her – since a young age she constantly told me and my sibilings that we were good at math. She would tell us math jokes and make it seem interesting and fun.

By middle school I had discovered fashion, learned to sew, and wanted to be a fashion designer called “Emilique”. I would sketch my fabulous designs and seriously looked into fashion schools that I could attend after high school. But as my classes in middle school broadened, I started to get more interested in science and math related fields. The movie “Twister” came out and I decided I would love to be a meteorologist. I would watch The Weather Channel constantly and even spent a day shadowing the weatherman at our local TV station. But that phase passed too.

I took biology my freshman year in high school and became fascinated with genetics. When other girls were reading “Jane Eyre” I was reading books about decoding the human genome and was convinced I would become a great geneticist when I grew up. I did my senior thesis paper on the human genome. But I was scared that as a researcher I could possibly spend my career alone in a lab researching and never have anything to show for years of work.

One fateful day I was asking my high school physics teacher, who I hugely admired, for advice on how to choose my major. I told her my fears about a career in research, how I liked math and sciences and how in the back of my mind I still liked artistic things like fashion and makeup. Then my teacher told me that she had majored in chemical engineering. She worked for a short time after graduation, but then decided to be a stay-at-home mom when she had her children. She later came back to work as a high school physics teacher once her children were in school.

I had no idea what a chemical engineer really did, but it sounded so cool!!! I could probably make my own makeup! And as an engineer I would have some material result to show for my work! I loved chemistry and math! I’ll do it!

So it was chosen. I vaguely looked up what a chemical engineer does for a living on the Internet and found some evidence I could make makeup. I never talked to a practicing chemical engineer. I did find an article saying that Cindy Crawford had wanted to be a chemical engineer if she wasn’t a Super Model, and that impressed me because of my past interest in fashion. I had a pretty little picture of myself making makeup in a fashionable pink office, and I was sold on chemical engineering and never looked back.

I was an excellent student in high school. I took advanced classes, played trumpet in band, played varsity tennis, had leadership positions in several extracurricular activities, and I earned almost straight A’s. When I graduated, I had a 4.3/4.0 GPA and was in the top 3% of my class of nearly 600 students. I prepared and studied for the ACT and did well. Because of my hard work, I was accepted with tuition and fees fully paid by a Presidential Scholarship at my local university. I declared my major as chemical engineering immediately.

I was soon in for a huge wake up call on the reality of chemical engineering, but I had no backup plan and was too proud and stubborn to change my mind no matter what obstacles I faced over the next few years.

But I will save the college years for my next post…stay tuned friends!

Tips - choosing a major

What do you think of today’s tips? How did you choose your major in college? How early did you decide?

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