I (like pretty much every prospective college student) got used the question, “What do you want to study?” While my answer changed over the years, by junior and senior of high school, I felt reasonably confident in my answers. I wanted to become a doctor, so I would study biology, chemistry or the best of both worlds, bio-chem. I felt so sure of this that, in sending out my applications to schools near and far, I would always select one of these three.
To great celebration and congratulations, I finally committed to Boston College as a bio-chem major. I was going to be a doctor—firmly poised to assume the most desirable career for all Jewish children. With this in mind, I jetted off on a way-too-early flight from Orlando to Boston in early June.
Orientation came around and I was looking forward to it. I planned to make a few friends, meet a potential roommate and definitely sign up for all of those notoriously hard science classes. Confident, I walked into my bio-chem focused small advising session on the second day of orientation. An hour later, I left the session riddled with doubt.
What happened? While I sat there, listening to a very nice chemistry professor talk to us about STEM classes, I realized that I didn’t want to take any of these classes. I didn’t want to study biology, chemistry or any mixture in between. I wasn’t even that great at science in high school! I just figured that this was what I was supposed to do—because I hadn’t really thought about what I might do instead.
But it wasn’t all bad news. I thought back to almost every conversation with an adult who had gone to college. The common theme among them was the utterance of the following doubt-assuaging phrase: “Don’t worry! I changed my major a few times before I finally figured out what I wanted to study.”
I’d just finished taking AP Micro/Macro Economics. As an economist, it can’t be that hard to make a living, right? I left orientation a registered bio-chem major taking a first semester of classes tailored for economics majors. I told myself that if I liked it enough, I would switch my major and get a degree. Easy enough. Satisfied, I spent the rest of my summer not worrying about it at all.
I spent the first semester of college worrying about it a lot. As it turns out, I wasn’t a big fan of economics, either. This didn’t stop me from taking a micro theory class and a math class (the horror) and being mediocre at it.
I un-declared myself as a bio-chem major and left it at that.
Class registration rolled around again, and I needed to choose how to spend my second semester of freshmen year. The good news? I definitely didn’t want to study economics again, so we could cross that one off the list of potential majors. The bad news? I wasn’t really sure what I did actually want to study—again. Back to the drawing board.
During the first semester, I took a class called Perspectives, a philosophy and theology class I registered for mainly to complete those aspects of the core curriculum. I really enjoyed the philosophy aspects of the course. Useful, right?
But after some harried Google searches, I learned that philosophy majors usually scored very high on the LSAT. My father is a lawyer, so maybe I could do that. If nothing else, I would take some interesting classes for another semester until I switched my major again. But in the meantime, I decided that I would actually declare a major so I could access the resources of an entire department and start making visible progress on a degree.
Little did I know, being a philosophy major (or at least telling people about it) was a mistake all its own. Coming home from college the first time, I prepared for the endless onslaught of “What are you studying?” questions.
I wasn’t prepared for the follow-up. “What are you going to do with a philosophy degree?” I thought I crafted a pretty good answer—I would go to law school get a Ph.D. and teach. But this never seemed to satisfy people.
The moment I said “philosophy,” I might as well have said “I’m getting a degree in uselessness.”
I totally understand why people ask me what I will do with that degree. I know that “philosopher” isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think of potential career paths. But I resolved to stick with it, because I like philosophy.
This didn’t stop me from dreading that question every time it came up. By the middle of second semester, I picked up a second major. I wanted to get some bang for my buck at this whole college thing. I had the room in my schedule, and something else to tell people when they asked what I was studying.
I also thought that, when applying to jobs, or even law schools, that two majors might look better than one. I spent a couple of afternoons perusing the list of majors in the Morrissey College of Arts & Sciences with a pen—crossing them off as I considered and rejected each once.
Art? I can’t even trace a picture well. One of the sciences? That was already a no. History? Not my cup of tea. I decided instead to write a list of things I liked to do and then try to match that to a major. I like to read and write. Philosophy meets both of those criteria, but what else? English.
I always did well in my high school English classes and by this point, I began my job as an editor of the college newspaper. So I decided on English, declared it as my second major and signed up for classes for the next semester.
And I made an incredible decision. As a junior in college, I have stuck with both my philosophy major and my English major and I love both of them. I feel much more confident in my studies—confident enough to pick up a minor in journalism.
I’m making the most of my college experience, and I am firm in the belief that I am studying the right things for me. But I learned a few lessons from this whole mess of a process that I went through.
First and most obviously, it’s okay to change your major a bunch of times. How can you be expected to know what you want to study in college in your senior year of high school? Some people do, but a lot of people don’t. That’s totally normal.
Second, as long as you love what you study and you work hard at it, you can defend any major. It’s much harder to force yourself into a four-year degree (and then maybe force yourself into law school, medical school, a masters or an entire career) of something you hate.
I admire my friends in STEM majors—it’s something that they love and I don’t. We each develop different skills that the other doesn’t possess—that whole specialization of labor thing that we learned about in our history classes.
Third, you have to be able to see the humor in things. I laugh at the “humanities” jokes, but fire right back at my business school roommates or my pre-med friends. People in your life that care about you will support your decisions, as long as you can back them up.
Maybe don’t major in underwater basket weaving. But do what you love, have passion for what you study and chances are it will all work out.