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Opinion: The case for not declaring a major

By the time I was 18, the stars had simply never aligned in such a way as to inform me what I should major in during college, as they had, I presumed, for everyone else. No god emerged from a wine dark sea in the depths of my dreams to deliver to me a divine message of academic interest, no ancestral poltergeist called to me from under my Twin-XL bed to tell me that they wanted me to live out the life they never had by majoring in economics, and no bolt of lightning struck me while walking along my many-pronged fork of a path to reveal to me that I should major in philosophy.

In short, I had no idea what I was doing.

To be honest, nothing has changed since then, despite the wealth of courses, talks, and opportunities I’ve had. How can it, when I fall head-over-heels in love with everything? But alas, upon my formal designation as a 6th term sophomore, I declared a major in accordance with the rules. Why then, do I feel this lingering regret and sadness associated with major declaration?

Perhaps it is because the fact that I’m majoring in Chinese just doesn’t cut it, doesn’t cover what I’m feeling and thirsting for. It doesn’t show how I’m racing to learn as many languages as possible while I have time, how I’m trying to write worlds in my free time, how I am drop-dead fascinated by neuroscience, how I’m dancing barefoot through academic fields and spreading the cloudlike seeds of the knowledge therein with my breath like so many dandelions. How I want to be a doctor, writer, journalist, diplomat, linguist, and professor. How I already know I’m going to have a mid-life crisis when I’m fifty because I know I’m going to want to explore a new area in my profession, or a different profession altogether, or drop everything and go invent a new one in some far-off place. How that’s somehow fine with me and representative of the life I want to lead.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, at least I can’t be, not with all the amazing knowledge whorling out there in the world and awaiting discovery. So why do we as students, as people, as humanists, have to show the world, through some slot in an online drop-down menu, that we’ve made this one decision?

“What’s your major?” they ask us, meaning nothing by it, not thinking of the question’s implications, but not genuinely curious as to what lights our fires either. Why must a single designation initiate many of our interactions with strangers, with interviewers, with even the ones closest to us?

So why don’t we just stop declaring majors? Just, let us stop, take a slew of random courses simply for the delight in them, drift by the deadline for major declaration, or consider recanting one’s declaration, and await consequences. Of course, there is importance and value in specializing in an area for graduate school preparation, and in that case majors must be declared, but outside of that, how much would it really change about our lives just to bear a degree with no specific concentration?

The answer is not much, not fundamentally.

Yet the very essence of a major implies that we must show we have learned something in college, that we have gotten something distinct and valuable from our education that we may show to the world as validation. Perhaps, then, instead of a major and a senior thesis regarding that major, those who do not declare majors could also do a research project or self-directed thesis covering any topic they find interesting, or a combination, multi-genre work representing their different passions, for a lack of decision on a major would not signify a lack of learning or lack of growth as a person.

What do we lose by declaring a major? We lose, perhaps, the opportunity to take a greater variety of courses in favor of specialization. We lose, in the eyes of others, our previous nonconformist status as “unsure,” or “interested in a lot of things,” in brief, the identity of being undecided. Does it matter to hold onto this identity, or rather, this chameleon-like antithesis to the very idea of identity? I think it does.

So let us take a moment to stare the drop-down menus and major declaration forms in their eyes, breathe in the academic air, and decide whether decision itself is right for us, or whether no amount of majors we could take on would ever feel like enough. Let us prove to the world that taking multiple paths in life and having multiple areas we want to become proficient in is a gift, not a problem of strange uncertainty and not knowing oneself. Let us show everyone that being undecided is an art and commands respect. The fact is, a lot of people don’t know where they’re headed, or they think they know, but they’re wrong.

Then maybe, if enough people stopped declaring majors, the state of being undecided in college, in life, would gain some respect.

Because ultimately, indecision in and of itself is a decision.

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