“Should I stay or should I leave? Sayang yung four years. (Four years would be such a waste.)”
“Wala ‘yan sa tagal. (It’s not the length of time that counts.)”
No, this is not a conversation about breaking up with someone. It’s the struggle that plagues the uncertain student who realized they chose the wrong college course. Now what to do if you get cold feet right before graduating from college? Is it too late?
Option 1: Stay in your comfort zone and see things through with your current course. You don’t want all that money, time, and effort to go to waste. Option 2: Follow your gut and shift to your dream course, all for the promise of a more fulfilling career.
Take it from someone who made the leap of faith despite having to start all over again.
Melissa Ungco, 23, is now an HR Advisor at Shell. But her college course was Engineering. In an online interview, she shares the struggles and learnings of an Engineering-turned-Development-Communication-student—a path that had brought her to her dream job.
Why did you choose engineering at first?
I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was choosing courses for the entrance exams.
I did know that I wanted to take something aligned to communication or arts but never really thought of pursuing it because everyone around me was taking engineering or architecture.
Since I was in the star section (it’s a thing in high school), there was also an unspoken notion that we had to pursue courses that were either engineering or architecture.
So how did you feel about taking a course that you were not passionate about?
At first, I felt like it was the right choice.
My friends and I made it to the engineering program of UPLB and we eventually started taking classes together, reviewing for the exams together, all in the efforts of passing together.
Of course, things didn’t go out exactly how I planned it. I had to double time in studying, solving, and reviewing that I wouldn’t go home (I stayed in the dormitory while at UPLB) for months. I also lost the time to do the things that would make me happy; This included writing, creating art, and socializing.
Since I was the type of person who would shut herself out to review when things [get] really hard (because I concentrated that way), I eventually felt the burnout. I found myself unhappy about the course and I felt that it wasn’t “me” anymore.
When did you decide to shift to a different course?
I was already working on my thesis proposal when I decided to shift . . .
After passing my thesis proposal, I knew that this wasn’t what I wanted to do in the future. I no longer could imagine myself graduating with this degree and working as an engineer. I really knew I wanted to do something else.
What were your worries before deciding to shift?
I was harsh on myself and I thought I was nag-iinarte (acting out) because I was having a hard time and I [believed] I was unhappy.
I gave it some time and realized that it wasn’t just some mood that would go away but it was now my general feeling towards my course. I thought taking my thesis would “shoo” those feelings away but it was all the same.
Why shift to Development Communication?
. . . other than my peers and orgmates saying that I would fit [perfectly] in DevCom, I knew the course would allow me to do the things I loved doing. And even if I didn’t know much about the course, I knew it encompassed the things I knew I was good at: writing, designing, etc. It was this and everything else I was willing to learn.
How did people react to your decision to shift to another course—right before taking your thesis, no less?
Of course, my professors and thesis advisor didn’t take it well at first. They knew I was struggling but they never thought I was thinking of leaving. They knew I liked writing and designing and taking on creative projects but they didn’t know it was that strong to the point that I would feel unhappy and would want to shift.
I’m touched that my professors and advisors didn’t want me to shift at first because they saw potential in me but they respected my decision to stay off the course and choose something I really like.
My family and friends were nothing but supportive of my decision. They were shocked but they got over it and supported me instead.
What happened when you finally shifted to DevCom?
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies after shifting especially since you have to adjust to the new environment and make new friends. But it was really fulfilling as I got to practice and even develop the things I loved doing. Things were easier to do and I was genuinely happy.
What were the challenges of being a shiftee?
Other than the numerous requirements I needed in order to shift to my new course, I struggled also with self-doubt. There was always that self-doubt that I would ever be good enough for my new course. It took me four years to realize that I wanted to shift and now that I was shifting, am I really good enough to make it?
[Shifting] was also so important to me because I knew this was the career I wanted to be in. [And] if I failed, I knew I would feel bad and it would be a shame that I shifted only to find out that I wasn’t even good enough to be in Development Communication to begin with.
How did you overcome the challenges of shifting to a different course?
I don’t remember doing anything specific to overcome the struggles I’ve been facing but I did show up everyday even if things got hard since I shifted.
The new environment (professors, students) played a factor to me adjusting to my new course. Nevertheless, I always did my best and reminded myself that this was what I wanted – things eventually got better from then.
And now you’ve graduated and landed a job that you love! How has it been?
Working as an HR Advisor at Shell has allowed me to practice what I love doing, which really is a mix of collaborating with people and managing information all for development (since I specialize under Information Management). I also enjoy being surrounded by people who are passionate about making an impact through the business.
How would you compare your current job to the career you could have had if you pursued engineering?
Honestly, I can imagine almost having the same opportunities if I pursued engineering, given that I currently work at an Oil & Gas company, but the nature of the work would be very different.
One thing’s for sure though; Because I shifted, I am more at peace with myself. Shifting has made it easier for me to move into the career that I want for myself with no more what ifs. I couldn’t imagine myself working an engineering-related job (and this is not me disrespecting engineers) but this is just me not wanting it for myself.
At the end of the day, our happiness is what matters and so it’s better to be honest with yourself.
Lastly, any advice for students who are thinking about shifting to another course?
1. Know thyself.
You have to really know yourself before making the big move. A lot of people find it time-consuming to take their thesis and then decide but it really helps (at least in my case) because it shows you a glimpse [of] your “future.” Of course, to each his own, but I found it really helpful understanding something I wanted for myself.
2. Talk to your friends and family.
Shifting requires a lot of thinking. It also helps if you talk to your closest friends about it so you can weigh in your decision. I talked to my friends from Engineering and I was surprised that they agreed and supported my decision.
3. Find comfort in the fact that you will find your way, no matter what.
You’ll always find yourself where you’re meant to be and we shouldn’t stop it [the urge to make a change] even if it seems scary or uncertain.
They really weren’t kidding when they said that staying off course (not following the path people expect you to take) is one crazy roller coaster ride. I spent two extra years in college but looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
There has been a stigma around the idea of “following your heart” when it comes to making important life decisions. People say, “‘Wag puro puso. Dapat utak din. (Don’t make all your decisions based on your emotions. You should also use your head.)”
New piece of advice: ‘Wag puro utak. Dapat puso din. (Don’t make all your decisions based on what’s ‘practical.’ Take your emotions into account.)
What looks good on paper—say, graduating on time or finishing a college course that leads to a high-paying career—may not always be the best path to take.
Sometimes, listening to your feelings can be a compass to your passions; And where your passion lies, you could also find your strengths and where you can be your best professional self.
Sift through the worries and confusion of finding the right college course and career path for you. We’re here to guide you as you navigate through college life, job hunting, and everything in between.