It’s the question that’s sure to send any college student into a self-analytic panic attack. The question to which most liberal arts students respond in form – shuffling their feet uncomfortably, staring at their toes and mumbling something along the lines of “Well, I’m figuring it out.” It’s also a reason why just about everybody in LSA resents the business school, pre-med and kinesiology students. You see, for those students, their field of study serves as a protective bubble, saving them from the plight of the lowly liberal arts student who can only shrug in the face of the ubiquitous inquiry: “So, what’s your major?”
Nothing in my three years at this University has been as troubling or time consuming as my attempts to join the ranks of those who have an answer to that question. I, like many others, started to chastise myself around the end of sophomore year for seemingly being too lazy and indecisive to make the one decision I came to this place to make.
Fortunately, for my self-esteem at least, I now realize that my indecisiveness was completely justified. Like many a na’ve freshman, I came to the cold, barren plains of Michigan from the gray, desolate hills of New Jersey with a plan – I wanted to be in politics. Unfortunately, when you get to college you realize that political aspiration for college freshmen is like wanting to be an astronaut for 6-year-olds. Once I realized that I wasn’t the only 18-year-old in the country with eyes on the White House I started to explore my alternatives.
History, sociology, communications, anthropology, political science, psychology. So many options, so little to base my decision on. ‘Please choose your life’s direction based on these one paragraph summaries and list of related class titles,’ the course guide seems to beckon. Of course, every friend who has already declared feels obliged to give you the line that’s heralded as the one golden rule of choosing a major: “Pick what you like!”
But the assumption that somehow the strictly defined majors LSA offers comprehensively cover our student body’s diverse range of interests is ridiculous. “Oh! Cultural Anthropology! That is exactly what I’ve been dreaming about ever since that trip to the Colosseum when I was six!” students are supposed to say while perusing the course guide. From what I’ve seen, the decisive moment more often plays out like this: “… classic civilizations? I guess I have the most pre-requisites for that one, and I hear the classes are pretty easy.”
Don’t do this. I say this in vain, knowing that most of you will – and, in light of the likely alternative of starting a major late like me, probably should. But college isn’t about pigeonholing yourself or making sure to fit into one of the predefined boxes the University has set up so nicely. Liberal arts students like choice and flexibility. We like having the freedom of examining a topic from the perspective of varying academic disciplines. We like our history classes, our psych classes and our communication classes. We like the fact that on a given day, we can discuss both the alcoholism of our favorite authors and the genesis of contemporary American political theory.
And while a broad range of interests drives the most animated participants of classroom discussions, it’s also at the heart of many students’ fear of commitment in declaring a concentration. It’s a shame that earning a general studies degree is perceived as having failed at college in some regard. It could be that the general studies option is so discounted because there’s something infuriatingly reasonable about it – an education characterized by unfettered academic exploration. What is completing the set curriculum of a major but proving that you can jump through whatever hoops the department heads decide on? They say it doesn’t really matter what you major in, but perhaps that’s because jumping through hoops is the important part. Department curriculums require you to complete courses A, B and C so potential employers know you’ll do jobs D, E and F.
With that in mind, and being just a semester or two away from graduation, I find myself on the other side of the decided-undecided dichotomy. Without so much as an inkling of direction, I had to declare a major, or face the consequences. I declared about a month ago, in the middle of my junior year. Before deciding, I spent hours on the concentration website looking at requirements and distributions, schedules and credit counts. What did I finally select? Sociology. Why? In addition to a slight, badly feigned interest in the subject matter, I realized that if I didn’t pick something, I wasn’t going to graduate, and that’s really the primary objective of this rat race. Plus, I was closer to a sociology degree than just about anything else.
It feels unseemly to have made my decision out of cold practicality. I miss the semesters when selecting a course schedule was as carefree as going out to recess on the University’s intellectual playground. Already, I find myself romanticizing my comparative lit professors, my political science professors, and the others I’ve had in classes ranging from anthropology to statistics.
To those instructors: Know that I probably enjoyed your classes more than I do the average sociology course. I probably learned more about what you were teaching because I took your class out of interest rather than necessity. And finally, I probably didn’t sleep through your lectures quite as much.
-David Nadel is an LSA junior.