Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ask the Administrator: What Should I Take?

A Western correspondent writes:
I am in my Junior year at a huge research university of 30,000 students. I am 20 years old, I have a 9-month-old baby boy, and am married to a full time working man in the midst of his career. We moved so that he could pursue his dreams and receive a promotion. I worked tremendously hard to get into the university Broadcasting Journalism program which has a 30% acceptance rate, and the program's degree serves virtually as a shoo-in for job proposals upon graduation. I refused to drop out of school, so I commute four hours round trip every day to take classes and finish my degree. I have 1.5 years left and I am home free, yet suddenly I am getting overwhelming pangs of distaste and boredom for Journalism.

Originally, I wanted to go to school for nursing but after falling in love with journalism - and having a genuine talent for it- I pursued a career in my current program. I have, since my freshman year, felt feelings of regret for the decision that I made, but my peers and family consistently told me it was just a "phase" and I should persevere, so I have. Finally upon a true epiphany just recently, I have realized that I don't want to do journalism anymore and would LOVE to be a nurse. I come from a long line of doctors and nurses whom continue to inspire me every day and only fuel my passion for the field. My husband is completely supportive. He says I should do what makes me happy, no matter what it is. Still, I am sure you can imagine my hesitance as I am so late in the college game and to switch majors now would tack on another good three years of course work before I got my degree.

I have sought the guidance of my college dean, my advisors, professors and mentors and surprisingly each and every one told me to yet again ignore the desire for nursing and finish journalism. They contend that if I still have these feelings after my graduation I can join an accelerated nursing program and still have journalism to fall back on. I am shocked at this advice because I don't know if I should really spend the next 1.5 years of my life wasting time and money on a degree I no longer feel passionately about. I think my four hour commute proves that I am serious about my education, so serious that I can't afford to waste my precious efforts on something I will not pursue. My heart tells me to go for nursing, but my mind tells me that if I leave all that I have accomplished behind I will have even more regrets than I already do....if you were my dean, what would you advise?

Now that I’m, well, eligible for my town’s over-35 softball league, 20 doesn’t strike me as all that old. If you have support on the home front, it’s certainly not too late to make a change, if that’s what you finally decide to do. But before you do that…

Like a good administrator, I’d first advise you to get more information. Right now you’re comparing a fantasy to a reality, which isn’t a fair comparison. Get some facts about the nursing program at the school closest to you (if you’re changing fields anyway, you might as well shorten your commute); ideally, schedule an appointment with the nursing department chair. When you meet with the chair, ask about the selectivity of the program, your odds of getting in, which courses would transfer, and what you’d need to take (if anything) before applying. At my college, for example, nursing students have to apply for the nursing program after first taking a full year of general education courses, including a year of biology (anatomy & physiology). In a way, this should make you feel better about the time you’ve spent already; the courses you’ve already taken will probably fill most, if not all, of the gen ed prereqs, so you won’t lose everything. Find out about GPA requirements, science and math requirements, criminal background checks, etc. If you don’t have those yet, you know what you need to do. (Keep in mind, those science courses have pretty nasty attrition rates. If two semesters of biology slap you silly, then nursing isn’t for you.)

If those all check out, have some frank conversations with the doctors and (especially) nurses you know about their daily lives. It’s obvious that family is important to you, so you should probably take stock of how each career would impact family life: nursing involves long, stressful shifts, for example, but allows you to stay in one place; broadcast journalism pretty much requires you to move around the country to move up in your profession. If your husband is place-bound, something would have to give.

The good news for you is that nurses are very employable, and that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, as the baby boomers get older. The bad news is that slots in nursing programs are very competitive, and the programs are pretty unforgiving.

Either field makes sense, but my general belief is that you’ll be better at the things for which you have a sustained passion. Your university may have a good track record at placing journalism grads in first jobs, but it’s a very competitive industry, and a halfhearted journalist isn’t likely to go very far beyond that first job. Better a dedicated nurse than an indifferent journalist.

As far as the concern for wasted education, I wouldn’t get too focused on that. The communication skills you honed will serve you well, and may open up other doors in the future (i.e. management, medical journalism, grant-writing, public relations, fundraising). Your toolbox will have things others’ won’t, and that could work to your benefit. It’s no coincidence that liberal arts colleges are major feeders for medical schools; the abilities to communicate with patients, to write clearly, to synthesize disparate information, and to tell a story that makes sense come in handy in real-world medical practice. Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.