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Changing the course of your university courses

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Anna Zarotiadou shares her experience finding new career paths for her education after realzing her major didn’t fit her career interests. This is ­­her third story in our graduate voices series.

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By Anna Zarotiadou

My decision to focus on UK university applications and drop my U.S. ones, despite having taken all the relevant exams and written all the essays, came under quite some pressure and changes of circumstances beyond my control. In addition to figuring out the different application process, I also suddenly had a few days to decide what I wanted to study.

I wanted to treat university as a skills-building experience rather than a knowledge-accumulating one, so I thought it would be a good idea to go for a degree that’s outside my comfort zone. History, politics and economics seemed like the ideal balance of concepts I was particularly interested in, but I knew little about. I expected history to teach me how to write essays and to practice public speaking, learn how to debate with well-formulated arguments in my politics classes and hoped my economics courses would contribute to a more complete understanding the world around me (and was the one discipline I was familiar with after taking economics HL in the IB taught by a very inspiring person).

“University is so much more than going to classes and writing essays”

It didn’t take me long to realize that I had probably romanticized university a little too much. The best way to structure an essay often depends on the professor who is going to grade it and formulating a stupendous argument does not necessarily mean winning the debate. As for my understanding of the world, I shouldn’t expect any class to give me that. Having been lucky to have some of the best lecturers in their respective fields, I was confident I had a good enough grasp of the disciplines to accept that I made a mistake.

They say acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it, so we have successfully passed stage one. Stage two, was examining dropping out and taking a gap year that I could use to gain some more real-world exposure. However, if there is anything I am worse at than writing an essay on the application of modern political theories on Central Asian politics in 30 minutes, that thing is giving up (and playing mini golf, but that’s a different story).

Following the course

Deciding to stick to my original plan was a difficult decision but I learned a few things along the way that helped me be more confident in my choice. First of all, sophisticated graduate training schemes allow companies in London (and elsewhere) to hire students from fields unrelated to the work they’d be doing and understanding that made me see the fact that not enjoying what I study was not a “short term problem” but rather as a life-changing one. Societies and clubs, career fairs and networking were there to help me find a job that I looked forward to graduating for.

Secondly, making good friends on the same course who are motivated people encouraged me to stick around them. Making decisions based on people’s company may sound a bit immature but I don’t think it is when those people teach you a great deal about yourself.

“Keeping with this path showed me that there are more opportunities than meet the eye.”

Moreover, university is so much more than going to classes and writing essays. Efficient time management, which I worked on quite a bit, allowed me to combine decent grades with being on the organizing committees of career societies, travelling, learning a couple new languages, spending time with friends and jogging around the nearby lake in the mornings.

Lastly, I turned to my goal-oriented self. All of us worked hard in our IB years to meet targets we set for ourselves based on our ambitions for the future, and our CAS activities probably helped surface our collaborative but also competitive side; I figured I could use that in my advantage this time. Sticking with my course choice would mean learning to persevere, while my competitive side is satisfied I did not give up.

Keeping with this path showed me that there are more opportunities than meet the eye. The transferable skills I get to develop through my course, such as extracting key information from a text quickly that I am called upon to do in my politics modules, is useful for my career in banking.

Having said all of the above, I wouldn’t judge anyone who drops out or who changes their course or major; I am merely highlighting that I personally would never be able to forgive myself for knowing I would need to start all over again at the end.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or your experience if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation!

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Anna Zarotiadou studies History, Politics and Economics with a focus on Economics and Finance at University College London in the Class of 2020. She graduated from Anatolia College IB, a school in Thessaloniki, Greece, as a scholarship student in 2017. Passionate about finance, travelling, foreign languages and extreme sports, in weekends you might find her at any airport trying to slip through as a local. Connect with her on LinkedIn here and share your thoughts with her.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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