Choosing a Major Requires Patience

Choosing a Major Requires Patience

Frankly I don’t know what to say about choosing your major. Have you seen Harry Potter? It’s possibly like that scene in Diagon Alley when Harry buys his wand. The scene is a cheesy parable about how certain aspects of our paths in life are chosen for us, not vice versa. The conceit is that wizards don’t choose their wands, the wand chooses its wizard. Harry tries out various wands (or rather various wands try out Harry) and after considerable chaos resulting from wand-wizard incompatibilities Harry finds a wand that apparently approves of him. Choosing a major is maybe something like this, and it can definitely be as chaotic. 

Among my four closest friends at this school, something like three majors have been dropped, around three have been added on at some point and a slew of minors have come and gone. Actually, to that point, I have no idea what my friends’ minors are. 

I entered college as a biology major, having expected to do just that for much of high school. Now I’m majoring in anthropology and political science — which is to say, you might not actually know what you are going to major in right now. 

(You might think you do, though … when I was a freshman and one of the go-to icebreakers was something like “what do you want to major in?” I always thought it was strange when someone would respond that they weren’t sure; it seemed bizarre to me not to have at least an idea of how you wanted your life to proceed … but I now see how much wisdom and maturity lay in what seemed then like peculiar indecision …)

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You probably won’t even declare your major until your second year. So, if you already have an idea of what you want to major in, by all means start taking classes in this subject. But take classes in other departments too. I took a medley of biology and chemistry classes my first three semesters and realized before long that I enjoyed reading the popular science writers like E.O. Wilson and Richard Dakwins more than I enjoyed sitting through college level lectures on renal tubules. And while I was gradually coming to terms with the dissatisfaction I felt with the course of study I’d long believed myself to be on, I was simultaneously kindling a deep adoration for the social sciences and humanities. I’d taken an archaeology class on a whim during my first semester which redefined my understanding of the world we live in radically, and had I not taken archaeology I may not have realized the extent of my interest in the study of culture and society. 

So what I believe I’ve communicated is that choosing your major is by design a messy experience and that the messiness should be embraced. Majors can be changed after they’ve been declared, minors can be picked up unconventionally late in your college career and frankly what you major in won’t matter nearly as much as you think it will — I know of precisely two religious studies majors who are presently on their way to law school.

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