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I’ll pick your major if you pick mine

As of the time of writing, there is a month and some until the Class of 2023 has to officially declare a major. I find that this deadline is an interesting one, not because of what it is, but because of the differing emotions sophomores feel towards it: anxiety, worry, relief, stability and a bunch of other emotions someone declaring psychology can tell you about. Still, one must admit that it is a Carleton milestone, but certainly not one I am happy to be hitting. 

I, like many others, came to Carleton with some idea of what I wanted to major in. But the liberal arts model seems to actively frown upon those who do. It got to the point where I cannot tell you all of the majors that I considered at some point. Sure, I applied to Carleton as a cognitive science major…or maybe it was computer science…actually, I think it was political science. Truth is, I have no idea, nor do I care. 

So I took computer science. The first few classes were great; the classes after that…were also great. But then, Spring Term arrived, and I had a single class that was not in computer science or math, and that was my Argument & Inquiry seminar. “It’s a S/Cr/NC term,” I thought, the perfect moment to branch out. So I took political science and I came to a horrifying realization: I love this class, too. Later, the indecision came to its worst when I took not one, but two classes covering the intersection between art and computer science. You can probably now see why I desperately do not want to declare a major. 

It seems like a common theme among my peers: Few of us are comfortable with the idea of limiting our learning to a single field. Even among the ones that have a set idea, there’s still the doubt of a minor or double major. But of course, upper education is laid out in such a way that disincentivizes a broad spectrum in favor of specialized education. It is not the Renaissance, and the astronomers and mathematicians are no longer artists and philosophers. 

So how do we pick? Should I pick based on career prospects? My own talents? The skills I seek to improve? That is a personal choice, but ultimately an inconsequential one. How many extremely successful people have majors in fields that are seen as less important? In fact, how many successful people have no degrees at all? When we set our parameters for success according to the 21st-century standard of living, we find that a degree is no longer necessarily a ticket to success, so the field it is in is even more irrelevant. 

But alas, each sophomore will have to tick the box and click the button next to their preferred department a month from now. I’ll hopefully find myself resorting to the field that will lead me to greater personal growth and highest likelihood of changing and molding my world view. 

I do not seek this as a way to make myself more marketable in a career sense, but rather out of pure desire to be the best version of myself. Is it likely to matter in the long run? Probably not. I do, however, recognize that I am able to do this due to the numerous privileges that I was and am afforded, and not acknowledging them is a disservice to those who do not share my position. 

Still, the endless pursuit of this wisdom is common among Carleton students, and my hope for our choice is that it does not stifle but instead inspires new interests. In the end, college is barely about learning, so go ahead and ask your friend to pick your major. Even better, declare in a department you have never even taken a class in. Go to their major declaration party, take a class, fall in love with the subject. Or don’t. It’s not like it matters. 

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