After making the decision to attend Wake Forest — perhaps one of the biggest decisions you have made in your life — deciding what to study can be overwhelming.
Given how little you probably know about your changing self at the age of 18 and the how quickly you feel like you’re being forced to grow up, it can be difficult to predict what course your life will take in 20 years. Parents may believe that whatever major you choose will dictate your fate.
However, the advantage of a liberal arts education at a top-notch school like Wake Forest is that your learning experiences here will prepare you for a wide variety of careers, even if they are not expressly related to your major.
While keeping in mind that a major decision is not a life sentence, there are still a variety of factors to take into account as your consider what to study.
First, do your best to separate your plans for yourself from other people’s plans for you. Your parents may want you to be a doctor or a lawyer and society may define “success” in terms of monetary compensation over innovative contributions to a field or positive impacts on the world. Separate yourself from that. You may even need to quiet the voice in your head telling you that you aren’t smart enough for a particular course of study. However, part of adulthood is determining your future for yourself. If you do choose to follow in your family’s footsteps, make sure that you’re doing it because you want to, not because you think that is what is expected. For example, my mother was an economics major at Wake Forest and my father is an economist, but my sister and I both chose to major in economics because we were independently passionate about the subject. In fact, before being inspired by a wonderful AP Economics teacher, we wouldn’t have touched it with a ten-foot pole. Even though you are in charge of determining your own educational future, let outstanding professors and leaders in your chosen field inspire and encourage you.
Secondly, most advice about choosing a college major admonishes you to “follow your passion.” But at the age of 18, it can be difficult to know what your passions are, and there is nothing wrong with that. Often finding a passion isn’t a sudden epiphany but a meandering process that develops over a number of years. Therefore, you can start by pursuing a small interest. When you feel a little tug of curiousity, follow it, even if it is a completely different direction than one you imagined taking. When you look forward to completing assignments or readings for a particular class, you should take more classes like it. For example, I had no plans to take history classes until I took a phenomenal first-year seminar on the life of Thomas Jefferson. After that I was enamoured enough with early American history that I declared a history minor.
This process of educational exploration can take place outside the classroom, too. Follow the Twitter accounts of experts in your field of interest, attend relevant lectures on campus and read plenty of academic papers that interest you — when else will you have free and unencumbered access to JStor? It’s a great idea to dip your toe into lots of different waters before you invest a lot of education and time in a specific topic.
Most importantly, perhaps, you should be flexible. You might expect to choose a specific major and later find out that you don’t enjoy it or aren’t good at it. These realities will force you to adjust or even redesign your ideal, which can be difficult and discouraging at the time. However, it will ultimately lead to a better outcome.
A flexible and can-do attitude is critical to develop before you enter the workforce, because inevitably some of your plans won’t ultimately work out. A liberal arts college is the perfect place to try something new again and again.