This post is wordy, but I want it to tell the story of how I went from not wanting to attend college, to being a pre-med student, to attending law school. Ultimately, I want this post to encourage those students who have changed their major a bazillion times- who feel they’ve wasted time taking classes irrelevant to their future career- who are completely lost and don’t know what direction to go. I spent two years taking hard science courses that have nothing to do with my future career, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
I started college when I was sixteen. In my home state, there’s a program called Running Start. The program allows students to attend college full or part-time, tuition free, while still in high school. Beginning my junior year, I attended college full-time because I was getting tired of high school, Running Start was my ticket out.
I enjoyed the independence I felt while in Running Start and I liked being in college, but I had no intention of continuing past an associate’s degree. Upon high school graduation, I received my AA in general studies. I had taken classes that would satisfy my college and high school requirements, but like I said, I had no intention of continuing.
In short, I had low self-esteem and didn’t feel smart enough to attend a four-year university. I even entertained the idea of transferring into a four-year program in Political Science and Economics, but when I saw there was a public speaking requirement, I chickened out. I told myself I was too shy.
Shortly before graduating from high school, I took medical anthropology and public health classes. We read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. The book follows Dr. Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti. I was enamored by Dr. Paul Farmer and how he helped people who were burdened with disease and an almost non-existent health care system. I finished those classes very interested in medicine and public health. I began to look at degrees in those fields, but realized it would take a lot of schooling.
I let fear get in the way of pursuing a degree until one day I was talking with my mom about her upcoming missions trip. She was about to leave for Panama where she would work with an organization called Youth With a Mission (YWAM). She said her dream was to go on a missions trip and with a slip of the tongue, I muttered “my dream is to work in Dr. Paul Farmer’s hospital in Haiti”. My mom looked at me without skipping a beat and said “Why don’t you?” I thought to myself, uh because I’m not a doctor, because I’m not smart enough, because I’m afraid!
I mulled this conversation over for a while. I started looking into nursing programs and other health professions and for reasons beyond me, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Looking back, I think I chose to be a doctor because I thought I could help the most amount of people with the skills a doctor has.
I decided to attend a community college for a year to catch up on my prerequisites. (I hadn’t even taken high school Chemistry yet). Then I transferred to a four-year university into their Health Studies program. The program allowed me to take pre-med classes while also taking public health classes.
I still didn’t feel very smart. It took a long time for me to build self-esteem. I remember sitting in the lecture hall for my first day of Biology class. It suddenly hit me. I was sitting in a college biology class. Not only that, but in a biology class at a university recognized for their rigorous biology program and home to one of the nation’s top ranked medical schools.
Fast forward two years, I was miserable. Fueled by a need to never give up, I kept taking classes I hated. I was shoving myself into a box I wasn’t made for. At the time, I didn’t know why I hated my classes. Looking back, I know I hated them because my mind wasn’t built for learning about thermal energy and physiology. Science is very black and white. I don’t always like black and white, I want to discuss the gray areas. I am easily bored with studying static systems.
After finally admitting to myself that I was miserable, I decided to drop pre-med and just focus on getting my Bachelor of Arts in Health Studies. This is when I began to take classes that interested me like Bioethics, Law and Public Policy, and Prisons, Communities, and Health. These classes all focused heavily on policy and how laws influence health. I excelled in these courses- I had found my niche.
I was fascinated with law. I loved learning about how laws impact our daily lives. I loved discussing ethics and the gray areas of law. This is when I decided to pursue a law degree. I still distinctly remember the flood of relief and the overbearing sense of joy that came when I made my decision to apply to law school.
Looking back, I realize, if it weren’t for my two years as a pre-med student, I don’t know that I would have pursued law. I was too shy and timid to enter straight into any sort of pre-law type majors. I needed the time of slipping into the back row, listening to a boring biology lecture, studying hard, and getting good grades before I could engage in class discussions or give presentations. It took time before I had the courage to take Public Speaking or to engage in class debate for Bioethics.
I still struggle when people ask what I’m up to because they are always surprised to hear I’m going to law school. I get the response “weren’t you studying nursing?” To which I role my eyes, “no, I wanted to be a doctor, now I want to be a lawyer”. I then receive a sympathetic look of you poor thing, you don’t know what you want.
My boss likes to make fun of me and tell me I’m going to be a professional student. I’m only 22 and I’m going to law school, that doesn’t really say professional student, but oh well, I suffer through his not-so-funny jokes.
I am proud of my unique background. I am proud to enter law school with knowledge of public health, able to calculate the prevalence and incidence of a disease, able to build a community health intervention from start to finish, and able to dissect a calf heart (ya I know, gross, but still pretty cool). It builds my perspective and gives me something unique to bring to the table.
I met way too many college students who were stressed because they didn’t know what to major in or they were stressed because they couldn’t get into the program they wanted and had to major in something else. I want to encourage all students, whether attending law school or not, that finding your passion takes time and hard work. It takes a lot of self reflection and regret doesn’t help anything. Your experiences, whether big or small, all build into who you are. You never know when a closed door will turn you toward the right door.