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A Major Dilemma

As college applications are submitted, there’s one question on them that can cause many students distress, worry, and ambivalence: What major do I pick?

Answering this question feels crucial, and the implications of its long-term consequences drastic. It determines not only what you’ll study for the near future, but also puts you on track towards a specific field or career, which is a big decision to have to make at 18 years of age. (Sometimes even younger!)

Admittedly, for some students the answer to this question comes naturally. There are many who go into college knowing exactly what they want to do afterwards, and thus, the major they pick is pre-determined in a certain sense. However, this isn’t always the case, and I’m a clear example of that.

In high school it was evident that theatre was something I wanted to pursue. I was so enthralled by this art that I decided to be my drama teacher’s assistant for both my open periods my senior year. When I graduated and went on to choose my major, however, I ended up choosing computer science. Why? Well, I loved video games, and it was easy to envision a future designing and programming games like the ones that had encompassed many of my weekends as a teen; frankly, it also presented a much more financially stable option when compared with theatre. So I felt that it was decided. I would go on to be a computer programmer, and do theatre whenever I could.

Fast forward to many years later, and I finally get to walk up to the stage to receive my diploma. However, I’m not at the commencement for the College of Engineering and Computer Science; instead I’m graduating from the College of Arts and Letters with a BA in Theatre (and a minor in computer science) alongside my artistic peers.

This change of major was not a simple decision. It only happened after 3 years of attending college, and it was the result of many discussions with my parents, my fellow students, alumni, and the faculty and staff that I consider mentors. Through these conversations I learned that being a starving artist wasn’t the only end as a theatre major, and that I could even earn my PhD in performance studies. It then felt like fate when I was invited to apply for the McNair Scholars program at my school, which helps prepare students for graduate school. With all this in front of me, I was able to confidently switch my major to what I ultimately wanted it to be, and am thriving because of it.

The ultimate point of this long winded story is that the major you put on your application may not be the major that ends up on your diploma, and that’s okay!

Now, college still costs money, so you don’t want to abuse this, but you can certainly take advantage of your first 2 years to efficiently explore the majors you’re considering. If you’ve looked through any college preparation booklet you’ve probably read that your first few years are mostly focused on completing general education requirements, with a few courses directed at your major. As you fulfill the general requirements, your course load is taken up by more and more of your specific degree requirements, until eventually they are all fulfilled.

If you are unsure of which path you want to take, I encourage you to use this time to take on electives in your major that really pique your interest and allow you to get a taste of what lies ahead (at least, as much as you can based on prerequisites). In fact, if the paths you’re considering are both closely related, it’s likely that you can fulfill some requirements for both degree paths whilst giving yourself a sample of a possible career path. I also strongly recommend talking to faculty in your department about the opportunities that each degree offers. You may find there are ways to use your education that you didn’t realize were even an option, just as I did.

Choosing a major is a big decision, but I’m here to tell you from experience that it isn’t a choice that is set in stone. College shouldn’t solely be about learning academic material; it should be a journey of exploring yourself and what you want to spend your future doing. So find something you love, and give it a honest try—because what you end up discovering may surprise you.