• Wed, Feb 2 2011

College Life: No, I Can’t Explain What I’m Going To Do With My Major

Questions of the following variety are familiar to anyone who’s attended college and studied something in the liberal arts: “So, what ya gonna do with a degree in X?” Most regularly, disciplines that are considered somehow “impractical” – English, History, Sociology – tend to be the most oft-criticized.

For some, rebuttals are easy: Law School! Just being intellectual before heading to a hedge fund, sir! And of course, in rare but highly respectable cases, there’s the pursuit of graduate study in that discipline.

But for the rest of us, the answer remains elusive.

In my case, of all the things that I stress about as caps and gowns begin to loom imminently, explaining “what I’m going to do with my major” produces the most anxiety. I can’t explain exactly why I majored in “Urban Studies.” The monotonous 400 pages of weekly reading (often poorly written to be frank) in History classes turned me off. I love reading and writing, but the pretentious hipsterdom of the kids in English classes irked me. And I was too insecure about my knowledge of politics and political opinions to study Political Science. So I found a loose, interdisciplinary major that had classes that highlighted, perhaps sometimes incongruously, various areas of I was interested in: history, sociology, media, technology, global development, architecture. (And I also just happen to really enjoy studying maps, which we were allowed to pass off as “primary research” on some occasions).

Try explaining this to your family, all of whom mysteriously seem to have majored in college in exactly what they ended up doing. My mother majored in the seemingly odd combination of Fine Arts and Business and ended up quite fittingly, in the business of art. The rest of the family had similar experiences. Or worse, try explaining “Urban Studies” to Europeans, who are accustomed to a far stricter and highly pre-professional system, during a year abroad. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that I probably wasn’t going to be a city planner. Sometimes I just said I was.

Whenever someone poses the “what are you going to do with your major” conversation, I’m a little conflicted and often a little confused. At the beginning of college, I was just as frequently in a different conversation, one wherein I was told that college was the “time to explore.” I was told I should take classes in anything that interested me. That I should sign up for lots of clubs. That I should be young, and experiment, and join an anti-war protest. Or something.

Though it sounds idealistic and somewhat trite, I actually feel that my ability to “explore” – good courses and bad, great extracurriculars or clubs as well as horrific ones. What I learned in my major what interesting to me, but it wasn’t what shaped me the most. I was just as shaped by the fascinating Urban Journalism course in which I earned an A as I was by the Geology course in which I earned a C+. And Geology might actually have been more memorable.

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