Oberlin Blogs

How (Not) to Declare a Major

September 10, 2012

Eleanor Bronder-Major ’15

So I guess for most people declaring a major is not a big deal. If you are the sort of person who is really driven to study something like chemistry, or politics, or really anything, declaring a major is probably not something you will spend a whole lot of time thinking about. That's great! Declaring a major is actually really easy. All you have to do is fill out one tiny form, and it's not even a very difficult form. As you may have picked up by now, however, there's one thing that's consistent in my life and that is that I will make everything more complicated than it needs to be. This guide to how (not) to declare a major should be read as a preventative measure to avoid self-destructive levels of ambivalence.

You might be wondering why exactly I found declaring a major challenging (or not, in which case I don't know why you are reading this blog). There are two reasons: I declared my major earlier than I really expected to, and I had monumental amounts of doubt about my prospective major.

Most people will tell you that you don't have to declare until the second semester of your sophomore year. The slightly more puzzling part is that the deadline for declaring is actually calculated based on the number of credits you have: once you pass 56 credits, you have to declare a major before enrolling for the semester. Apparently, it is extremely easy to obtain an extension, but the fact remains that I got several intimidating emails, starting in early August, warning me that I had to declare a major by the end of the first week of classes.

The solution to my problem seems straightforward: just declare the damn major already. In order to do that, I needed a new advisor, and I needed to decide once and for all what I wanted to spend my life studying. I needed a new advisor because my former advisor had gone on sabbatical; the decision about which major to choose was more complicated for me--as, I suspect, it is for many people (bringing me to the real reason for this post).

For the casual observer of my life, the choice would seem obvious: English. Like many college students, I love to read. Moreover, I love (possibly even more than I love to read literature) to read critical analysis and write essays. Like many people who have been told from an early age that they're good at something, however, my relationship to English was somewhat strained. People who asked me in my freshman year what I was planning to major in would receive the reluctant answer of "English," spoken in a questioning, pained voice and accompanied by a look that was half terror, half resignation. Being good at reading is like being good at breathing. And when people tell you over and over again, through their words and the way they approach you that you are inevitably going to live out your life in the company of massive piles of books, you start to believe them, but you also start to wonder why you're believing them. Sure, I love English, but do I love it enough to declare a major?

Another complication was that I did fall in love with a department last year: the Jewish Studies Program. The English department has twenty-two professors, and the Jewish Studies department has three. I took a first-year seminar with Professor Magnus, and I was hooked. I started taking Hebrew, a two-semester course which is required for the major. As a naturally cautious person, however, I was taken aback by how quickly I became absorbed in something that admittedly doesn't really have anything to do with my life. When I learned Professor Magnus would be on sabbatical this year, it became even more clear that declaring a Jewish Studies major wouldn't be practical for me at this point.

There are a lot of things I like about English. I decided that was the direction I was going to go with this major business. It was August; I was sitting in my room at my grandparents' house. I gritted my teeth and requested DeSales Harrison as my advisor. And then, last week, I spent a fair amount of time sweating over a Plan for the Major (a statement about where you want to go with your major--something that, apparently, only English majors have to do) and a Checklist for the Major and trying frantically to articulate to myself all the reasons this major was a good idea.

Obviously, I can't really tell you how this story ends, because I have no idea whether I'm going to be happy as an English major, whether I'm going to struggle through it or drop it or be blissfully happy for the rest of my life. But I can tell you that declaring a major is, in itself, a very easy process. And that although I'm almost as conflicted about being an English major now as I was at this time last week, I feel like I'm making progress. I've made the decision, at least.

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