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How I Chose My Major, Part II: Two years of everything.

December 7, 2009

This post is part two of a three part story. Part one is What I am. What I was.

Two years of everything

I took a wide variety of classes that first year. English, Cinema, Dance, Physics (for non-majors), Theater, Religion, Math, Rhetoric, and Creative Writing. That’s pretty much a different department for every class I took. I lacked direction. My second year, I did it all over again: Politics, Art, Theater (again), Creative Writing (again), and Math (again).

Most of those classes were great—interesting and engaging, I could really sink my teeth into them. A couple were mistakes—for instance, I just wasn’t as interested in studying cinema as I thought. None of them called to me. I don’t know what sort of a calling I expected, but it seemed like someday I would just click into something and it would all make sense. That never happened. I should have realized that you can’t wait for something interesting to grab you—you have to seek it out. Ze frank says, “I don’t think the question is which city is the best or most interesting. […] The question is how do you become interested in the city that you find yourself in.” Tom Robbins says, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love.”


If you’ve got a few minutes, listen to ze frank talk about choosing a major.

This idea, of constructing my own interest—of pouring myself into a subject, rather than trying to find the one that fits snugly—was wonderful once I came around to it. But it took me a while.

Two False Starts

Creative Writing

At some point over those two years, I decided I wanted to be a Creative Writing major. I had been a writer in the past and I thought maybe I could try my hand at it in college. I was rejected the first time I applied for workshop. Several of my friends were accepted. It was devastating. Instead I took a class that didn’t count for the major. It felt a little like defeat.

I got in the second time I applied, but earned a grade too low to continue in the major. I applied for more workshops anyway, but was rejected. I worried that my writing was sub-par. I knew that my writing was sub-par. At the same time, I felt that I was being unfairly muscled out of the department. In the end I know the truth: I earned that grade in my first workshop. If I had worked harder, I could have continued. But I was indeterminate and unable to commit. My eyes wandered.

Visual Arts

For a time, I thought I should major in Visual Art. Truth be told, I’m no great (not even good, really) artist, but I’ve had artistic inclinations. I love photography as only an amateur can and I’ve spent a great deal of time doing graphic design work for print and the web. I enjoyed the drawing class I took sophomore year and even think I improved. But after spending a little more time in the department, I realized that it wasn’t a good match.

I read once that the difference between an artist and an illustrator is that an illustrator seeks to answer questions while an artist seeks to provoke them. Regardless of which pursuit is more noble, I admit that I’ve always sided with the illustrators. But even beyond that, the craft fascinates me, more than its implications. My art professors wanted to teach me to create meaning, but I just wanted to create—meaningfully or otherwise. So after dipping my toes in, I turned away.

Now what?

I don’t want anyone to get me wrong about these two departments. They’re both great—which is the reason I considered either of them in first place—but neither turned out to be a good match for me and so I was lost.

Two years had passed and I was basically back where I started. I had no idea what I wanted to study. If I had my way, I wouldn’t have a major at all. But college requirements stipulated that it was time for me to choose my major, so I agonized over it. I talked to a lot of people, professors and friends. I took some time off and thought about it some more. For a while I thought I’d try to write my own course of study (Oberlin has a process for this called an individual major) but in the end that was too much work and too rigorous a process for my taste. When I returned to Oberlin after my semester off, I swung around to the other end of the academic spectrum—what some might consider the polar opposite of fields such as art and writing—and declared a major in mathematics.

Next: But Why?

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