Going back to class (or finals depending on your degree program) after the holidays is a struggle that never gets easier. Everything feels slightly off, you’ve partially forgotten your routine and you’re flooded by second thoughts. It could just be the winter blues and a lack of vitamin D. But you could also be struck by a dilemma that affects a lot more students than care to admit: you don’t know if your course is meant for you.
Before making any big decisions
Think about your feelings
As an international student here it’s easy to feel isolated. Student loneliness is an international epidemic that has been widely researched in the US, UK and even here in the Netherlands. Which is why you shouldn’t make any drastic decisions before thinking things through: Do you understand everything? How are your grades? Are you still interested in the subject matter? Is it the university’s vibe? Most of the time second thoughts have nothing to do with the course but a lack of connection. They are, however, impermanent, unlike the decision to drop everything and leave. You could just be hit by a strong bout of homesickness!
Connect with friends
Talk to your friends about your doubts. If you don’t feel like you can bring it up with your friends then a group of random peers. More often than not you’ll find that you’re not the only one having second thoughts about the degree you’ve chosen, your career prospects with said degree and if it’s truly what you want to be doing. This should come to no surprise: it’s unrealistic to expect your bachelor’s degree or any decision you take in your late teens to define your life. Talking to like-minded people will help take some pressure away.
Talk to a therapist
Mental health is still a pretty taboo subject but a highly important one nonetheless. You don’t necessarily need to talk to a therapist, you can talk to a high school counselor that knows you or even your mom. What is important is that you confront your malaise with as many different people as you can. It will help you sift through the noise and understand the core of your problem. Mental health professionals are just a little bit better than everyone else at helping sort out your feelings.
You should feel like you’ve talked to everyone you physically know about the second thoughts you're feeling. Chances are, after a couple of discussions you’ll realize that it isn’t as dire of a situation as you thought. The key is to stay proactive.
Push your class-taking boundaries
Start by auditing classes that cover subjects you’re interested in. You don’t even have to enroll in them. By broadening your circle of interests you can test if the problem resides in your course, you not meshing with the university or just the way your program is built at your university. It might be that you’re better suited for a seminar teaching style and have up till now only been confronted with big lecture halls!
Research other programs
Like auditing other classes this allows you to check out your options. Normally if you’re ready to research other courses or even schools you should be pretty sure that where you are right now isn’t the best fit. Look carefully at the degree requirements and the way classes are mapped out for the 3-4 years of study. Ask people you know about their opinions on that course or school. Look into what transferring there might look like. Will you have to restart? Do you feel comfortable restarting? Reorientation should be considered a project that you invest a lot of attention and time into and should not be done on a whim.
Talk to your study advisor
Your last step should be going to your study advisor. They’re the ones that know your program the best and the person you’ll have to go to for things like transcripts or recommendations. Most of the time, they’ll show you unexpected things about your program like things you can look forward to or professors that fall more in line with your interests. Though it’s the last conversation you should have, this is the most important one. Your study advisor can not only provide you with some much-needed perspective but also knows the university well enough to help you find a solution that works best for you.
Having second thoughts is a common but overwhelming experience. Once you’ve really sat down and reevaluated your choices, you'll be ready to make an informed decision about what you want. You can apply somewhere else or even take a gap year to clear your head. Just remember that things like having enough time or being successful are subjective. The most important thing to do is to find a space or program that best fits with who you are.