Sophomore Slump: Why I’m against picking a major

“Take whatever classes look interesting to you! College is about exploration!”

Sound familiar?

This is the advice that college freshman are given when they have to pick classes during Orientation week. They’re told to take classes across the board, everything from Oceanography to the Creative Process, experiencing the diversity that makes a liberal arts education great.

But what happens when you’re a sophomore and you receive an email that reads:

You are receiving this email because you have not yet declared a major. Students are required to officially declare a major by the end of the third semester.  Declaring a major before Spring 2011 registration will also help you register for classes that may only be open to specific majors.  The Major Declaration form is available in the Registrar’s Office or online at http://www.middlebury.edu/offices/academic/records/Forms/stuforms.

I received this email about 2 weeks ago and it freaked me out. I went into a panic, searching for a major, something concrete to hold onto. At the time, it felt like this was the moment when I had to start making the big decisions about what I wanted out of my education and, in the long run, out of my life.

During my time here, I have taken classes in the Geology, Anthropology, Psychology, Italian, English, and Education Studies departments so I was having an incredibly tough time deciding how I could possibly choose a major that would encompass my varying passions, a major that could offer me absolutely everything I wanted to study.

And it turns out that kind of major doesn’t exist, at least not here.

Of course there are majors that are incredibly interdisciplinary (Environmental Studies with a focus in Performance or Literary Studies, for example), but, for most of us Midd Kids, we have to choose one major and stick with it, which can be pretty daunting. It was hard for me to envision having to spend the rest of my time at Middlebury so focused on one area of study; is it so wrong that I want to study everything?

I don’t think so, and while I recognize that there is obviously opportunity to explore academically, I still find myself grappling with having to declare one major (and maybe a minor or two) that defines my academic experience. Something about being ‘Cody Gohl: The Spanish major’ or ‘Cody Gohl: The Psychology major’ doesn’t seem to do justice to the vast array of classroom experiences I have had or will continue to have as a student at Midd.

If it’s true that most of us won’t have jobs in the future that are anything like the majors we have now, and that it’s our critical thinking skills that will be of the most use to us, why would we choose to major in anything at all? Think of the beautiful freedom there would be in getting to take absolutely anything you wanted, avoiding major requirements and other prerequisites that prevent you from taking classes that make your heart race until you think “No, I need to take this intro course instead for my Major..”

We preach about diversity in our student body, but what about in how we approach the idea of the ‘major’? Sure, we have 8 distribution requirements that often force students to think outside of their main focus of study, but then what? It’s back onto the academic treadmill, running to finish off a major so that you can hang a framed diploma in your future home office that tells the world that while you were at college, you accomplished something.

And while this might work for some people, I refuse to reduce my experiences to ink on paper or a row to sit in upon graduation. In declaring my major (English) I do so with the intention of completing my 12 major requirements, of course, but also of experiencing everything that I can while I am here.

Middlebury may never recognize that I’ve exhausted its Social Psychology courses or that I took Italian for 3 semesters. I may never be able to truly tell people what I studied in College but, when I look back in 10 years, I hope that I can look back and smile when I think about the education class I took (but didn’t fulfill any requirements) or the English class I decided not to take (because it didn’t really interest me, anyway). Because education is about more than just checking a box and remaining in the confines of what you think you should be doing.

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7 thoughts on “Sophomore Slump: Why I’m against picking a major

  1. Very true. I still feel this way as a senior. Most people who ask me what my major is either have no idea or guess Theater or English. I’m sort of an accidental, out-of-the-loop Poli Sci major. The whole philosophy of experimentation didn’t work for me because my interests are too broad, which sounds similar to what you’re feeling.

    That said, it is sort of weird to end up in your last year and wonder what college adds up to. I think there’s something to be said for keeping a clear progression in mind… maybe require a senior thesis but no major? I dunno. I’m not doing a thesis, either.

    Also, you can become an Independent Scholar if you want to. I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it involves creating your own major.

    Interesting article!

  2. You forget the DEPTH, as well as bredth is important. I didn’t feel like I was truly learning anything until i got to the upper level classes in my major. Just make a decision and stop whining.

  3. — (if I may address you as such),

    I don’t believe that creating a dialogue about the idea of the ‘major’ necessarily constitutes as whining, but I do appreciate your commentary on the need to have both breadth* and depth in what one studies.

  4. I had a particularly good time (read: learned a lot from) trying out upper level (300 level +) courses in departments that allow you to take them without being a major. Okay, so that’s not really depth either, but I felt I got more out of the smaller class size even though I may have been missing some of the foundational knowledge from the intro-level courses.

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