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My Experience with Switching University Degrees

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When I arrived at university the only books I brought were ancient texts, my bookshelf crammed with Ovid and Homer. However, as I progressed through the first and second year of my degree that passion slowly dwindled away and I had to accept that I had made a mistake.

When I started my university degree in September 2019, I was certain I had made the right choice. Moving to Edinburgh from London, while a big step, would grant me independence and the chance to explore a new city.

I was excited for classes to start and to begin my degree in Classical Studies. I had been interested in Classics ever since I was first learning about the Greek myths as a child. That passion carried me through GCSE and A-Level Classical Civilisation, and I thought would result in an eventual Ph.D. in the subject. When I arrived at university the only books I brought were ancient texts, my bookshelf crammed with Ovid and Homer. However, as I progressed through the first and second year of my degree that passion slowly dwindled away and I had to accept that I had made a mistake.

I had always loved learning about the ancient world but at university, I was struggling to muster the motivation to drag myself to lectures. Instead of being able to learn about art and literature as I hoped, I was instead writing essays about battles, dates, and the infrastructure of Roman sewers.

But What If I Don’t Like My Course? The realisation that I was wasting my university years on a course I didn’t enjoy was terrifying, and as I neared the end of my second year, I realised I had to make a change.

Accepting that I made a mistake was the most daunting moment in the process of switching degrees, but switching allowed me to move forward.

I had done electives throughout my first and second year in subjects outside of Classical studies. Therefore, I quickly developed a passion for the History of Art and at the end of second year I took the decision to pursue it as my degree. This decision was the best I ever made as not only did it allow me to focus on a subject that I had a genuine interest in but it also improved my mental health.

While the concept of switching degrees created a lot of anxiety it was nothing compared to negative emotions I would have felt if I continued studying Classics. I was unimpressed by my Classical studies lecturers who often seemed like they would rather be anywhere else than at the front of a lecture hall.

I was also facing the very real possibility of choosing honours courses that held no interest to me as the Classics department had reduced the number of modules that focused on art and literature. On the other hand, History of Art offered a wide range of modules that interested me, ranging from medieval Buddhist art to French surrealism of the 1920s. I was excited about my History of Art lectures and found my teachers engaging and approachable.

In many ways switching degrees was about prioritizing my mental health at university. I had worked so hard during my A-levels to be able to do Classical studies at university and because of that, I felt like I needed to like it, it was as if I owed it to my younger self to follow through on all the effort I put in at school. However, the reality of the situation was that Classical studies affected my mental health.

Part of this realisation came towards the end of my second year when I was diagnosed with ADHD. Researching my diagnosis helped me gain a better understanding of how my brain works, and I began to realise how important it was that I study something that I enjoy.

People with ADHD often have trouble focusing on things that don’t interest them, it’s not a case of being lazy – our brains simply don’t allow us to dedicate time to things that don’t captivate us. As I struggled to write essay after essay on Greek battle formations and Italian tribal wars, I realised how much this applied to me.

Switching to History of Art allowed me to focus on things that actually interested me and this was reflected in my higher grades. When it came down to it, I had two options: struggle for two more years in a course that was making me miserable, or jump to History of Art – a subject that allowed me to explore my interests.

In the end, I jumped.

Switching at the end of second year is unusual. While I took History of Art as an elective, I hadn’t studied History of Architecture, which immediately put me at a disadvantage to everyone else on my course.

I needed to focus on the new opportunities I faced by switching my degree, instead of worrying if I was up to the task.

History of Art has given me the chance to learn about artists that I am truly interested in and to learn from lecturers who are passionate about their subject. It has even enabled me to rediscover my love for classics without the pressure of university. Yet, most importantly my mental health has improved.

When we begin university, we are certain we know how the next three or four years of our life will go. There is a clear path to finishing your degree and graduating. Though, for some, university will not be that simple, and changing degrees is the twist in the road they were not expecting. For those who are at that crossroads, I invite you to bite the bullet and jump. Instead of being stuck in a degree you don’t enjoy, take that leap to choose the one you are passionate about. Change is good. 

Enjoyed this blog? Why not read: Second Time Lucky 

Grace Patterson is an undergraduate student pursuing History of Art at the University of Edinburgh. She hopes to work in museums after university with a particular interest in curating. Outside of her degree Grace is active in societies such as book club and volunteers as a peer mentor for younger students. 

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