Rotten Tomatoes University of Iowa Experience Reviews: – Switch – Up: My University of Iowa Experience (Tom Podczerwinski)

“Rotten Tomatoes” is a review writing and critiquing class being offered as a section of “Writing Commons: A Community of Writers” at the University of Iowa. For many of these authors, this is their first publication.

Switch-Up: My University of Iowa Experience
By Tom Podczerwinski

I remember a time when I asked my friend about where he was going with his life, about what he wanted to do when he got out of college. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “I want to be a doctor, a writer and an astronaut!” I was shocked, because those were the exact three things I wanted to be too. Granted, we were both four years old and getting into his mom’s jeep to go to karate, but that moment has stayed with me –even though neither of us knew what we were talking about at the time.  It’s funny, because when we were kids we wanted to be everything when we grew up, but as sort-of adults heading into college, most of us don’t really feel like being anything at all.

I came to the University of Iowa majoring in engineering — not pre-med, writing or space travel – but it didn’t stick for long. After a couple months of slaving away over arrays of numbers and tables regarding the properties of wood, I realized that engineering wasn’t for me. I had absolutely no motivation. I couldn’t imagine myself plugging in numbers for the rest of my life. Eventually, I transferred to a double major in business and English, but I’m not even sure if I like that — right now I’m considering swapping business to psychology. After less than two semesters in college, I will have been through four majors.

According to a study done by Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of, my indecision puts me in the majority. 80 percent of incoming college freshman are not completely certain what they want to major in. By the time they graduate, one in every two students will have changed their major at least once.

Picking a major is hard. This is partly due to the lack of information we are given before going to college. Classes in high school allow you to explore your interests, but they don’t really give any insight into what more focused study will bring: I took classes in engineering but didn’t see anything remotely similar to the reports I had to do in college. I took A.P English and didn’t learn a thing about actual writing. And the problems didn’t stop there. Judging from my own experience and the stories of others, meetings with counselors about college were generally few and far between. Without any detailed knowledge or recent tales of college experiences, the major selection process basically boils down to having a hunch and then following it. There isn’t really a guaranteed way to know what anything entails until you experience it for yourself.

This is why I’m glad I chose to attend the University of Iowa. While the institution hasn’t presented any ground-breaking solutions to the root of the problem, it recognizes the need for experimentation and gives students plenty of breathing room during their first semesters. If you find, like I did during the course of my exploration, that you haphazardly took a course in economics and realized that it is the bane of your existence, you can drop it in about an hour and avoid a lasting blemish on your academic record. If you feel like the whole major you’re in isn’t for you, walk in appointments with advisors are easy to get, and the switching process tends to be simple. You talk and plan with your advisor, you take a form across the street, and you get it signed. Done. The amount of resources and leniency that first year students are given borders on the gratuitous, but it removes so much stress from processes that could be so much more difficult. Aside from the simplicity that goes along with administrative stuff, the way that each curriculum is designed works so well for new students.  Beginner level core classes generally intertwine between majors, so taking things like basic calculus or lab science benefit people in almost every major. I took chemistry as an engineer and it ended up helping me all the way across the spectrum in English. General education classes, where you explore things other than your major, are necessary for graduation, so students are forced to diversify their interests and possibly stumble upon other career paths.

This doesn’t necessarily make the school special: almost every major university has Gen Ed.’s and official “Undecided” majors. But not every school gives students room to move between all these things. When I was choosing colleges at this time last year, my first choice was the University of Toronto. At that time I was perfectly aware that I was clueless, so when I went and took a tour I asked around about switching majors. Out of the five or six people I asked, only one said that he had an easy time with it. My tour guide even said that the University went so far as to deny her request to switch from environmental science to engineering. Imagine being trapped in a situation like that: unable to change the direction of your life.

Am I saying that the University of Iowa is perfect? Absolutely not. I’m not even going to share stories about professor(s) I’ve had whose teaching style bordered on nihilism, or finals that were suddenly canceled because the T.A was too sick to come to work. But from the perspective of a freshman who was completely lost when he first came here, I’m so grateful that everything about the school was open for exploration and movement. Not only was I allowed to control my college experience, but I was allowed to give myself hope for the future – for the day when I finally choose what I want to be and then get a good education for it.

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