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Hailey Nielsen

Find More than
Just a Major

Never stop learning, especially about yourself

Starting Out

– Hailey Nielsen –

I picked a major when my high school counselor kept telling me, “You should pick a major before starting college, it'll make it easier.” I hadn't finished high school, and I felt like I didn't know how to make a decision on my own yet. I went ahead and chose a major.

At the time, I wanted to be a physical therapist, so I chose nutrition, exercise and health science as my major. My first semester I volunteered every week at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, shadowing physical therapists. I could tell they were all passionate about their jobs, but the job seemed repetitive to me. As a person who needs to switch things up on a daily basis, I realized physical therapy wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Honestly, realizing that was terrifying. I suddenly had no idea what I wanted to do, and in my mind, I had already wasted an entire year. I freaked out.

I went to my academic advisor to register for classes for the next fall and I was really nervous because I knew I didn’t want to keep pursuing my current major, but I didn’t know what I wanted to switch to either. My advisor told me it wasn’t a big deal, and to go to the Explore Center.

Finding My Path

I went to the Explore Center right away. I walked in, put my name down, and was only waiting about ten minutes before an advisor came out to get me. I went into her office and just started talking. “I'm freaking out. I don't know what to do. I'm starting to register for classes, and I don't want to register for the wrong ones.”

She said the same thing as my advisor—that it's okay not to know what you want to do. A large percentage of people switch their major in college, which is something I didn’t know until I needed to switch mine.

The Explore Center advisor calmed my fears. She told me to register for classes now, but choose classes that could fit with a lot of different majors. Then she talked me through exploring my interests. She asked me, “What classes do you feel like you don’t have to study for? Do you have classes that you enjoy doing the homework for, and you enjoy the content in the textbooks?”

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Once I thought about it, I realized that the genetics class I had taken really interested to me. This sounds dorky, but I would actually read the extra blurbs in the textbook about unique genetic conditions that weren’t even required.  Once we discussed my interests, she printed off a list of careers I might want to look into and told me to go home and see which ones caught my attention.

One of the careers on the list was “genetic counselor,” which I had never heard of. Basically, a genetic counselor helps patients who may be predisposed to certain health conditions or diseases work through whether they want to get genetic testing done to see what their odds are of having the disease or passing it on to children. Once they get the results of genetic tests, what does that mean for them? For their future children?

That sounded really interesting to me. My friends say I'm a great listener. I felt like the counseling part of that job would really use my strengths. I went back to my academic advisor and told her what I’d been thinking, and she pointed me towards biology as a major because it was broad and could lead a lot of different health professional fields. After that I kept going back to the Explore Center with questions. I’d get to a step and not know what to do or need some assurance that it was okay to feel unsure.

Shadowing genetic counselors, I learned there's so many new genetic diseases that come up all the time and genes that people are figuring out are linked to certain diseases. A lot of the job is research and learning, which I really like. I don’t ever want to stop learning.

“In the moment, changing majors felt like the worst thing that could happen to my college career.”

— Hailey Nielson

Full Circle

In the moment, changing majors felt like the worst thing that could happen to my college career. But looking back on it, I realized that it helped me grow as a person.

I don't naturally do much reflection, but from the experience of having to start from scratch with my future, I was able to kind of integrate that into my daily life and it will be a valuable skill when I enter the workplace and have the ability to reflect on why I’m there, what’s important to me and why I started there in the first place. 

Now I’m an Explore Center ambassador, and when students visit campus, I get to talk to them about my experiences with the Explore Center. I get to answer questions and tell students who aren’t sure what they want to do that it’s okay. I tell them you can come into college undeclared and you can still graduate in four years. You'll be fine.

There are lots of resources—start with the professors in your classes. It's okay to be frustrated. I was too, it just takes time to realize what you're interested in, but you'll get there eventually. It might take you a year, it might take you three weeks, but you'll get there. I did.