Oberlin Blogs

Major Overcommitment

December 24, 2015

Tom Cline ’18

When you get to Oberlin, it’s easy to buy into the ethos that you have to do everything in order to fit in. Talking to people on campus, the average number of majors seems to hover around two and a half, and if you aren’t going to at least one club meeting a day you’re hardly trying. This mentality means that as a student, you get exposed to tons of awesome things and have ample opportunities to get involved in so many wonderful things. It also creates an environment that encourages overcommitment, and as someone who has always found it hard to say no to new things, this smorgasbord of options proved dangerous, and led to a semester of feeling overcommitted and worrying about delivering enough in any department.

When I came to Oberlin, I had a clear plan. I knew I wanted to double major in Theater and Economics, knew I would live and dine in a co-op, and was certain that every class I took here would feel important and would push me toward my goals. I expected my time here to be full of academic and emotional growth. My first year was great, and I was convinced my plan was sound. This semester, things didn’t go as well. My roommate and I didn’t get into the co-op we wanted this semester, so are living in South, one of the dorms. My class schedule consisted mostly of classes I needed to check off, and the work I was doing often felt pointless.

I thought that I had set up a semester that was doable, taking 20 credits, working, and designing three shows. As the semester progressed, I was lucky enough to have lots of awesome opportunities, and ended up working on 3 shows I hadn’t planned on. I loved all the shows I worked on, but ended up postponing schoolwork until a show had closed, and rushing to catch up before the next show started. I spent the majority of my semester in tech rehearsals, production meetings, or running shows, and as schoolwork and missed plans piled up, plans shifted and priorities changed. I realized that if I wanted to keep this schedule up (I did), and be happy, something would have to give. After long conversations with my mom, that ended up being the Econ major.

Deciding not to declare a major doesn’t seem like a large change, but as someone who likes to plan 3 years in advance, dropping a major meant radically readjusting my classes for the next few years, rebalancing classes to meet all my requirements, and some serious time with my class-planning Excel spreadsheet.
My beautiful class-planning spreadsheet

I was nervous to “officially” decide that my original plan had been overzealous, both because I was worried how other people would react (they didn’t care), and how I would feel majoring in “just” Theater. The overcommitment mentality that Oberlin breeds also made me feel bad to “just” be doing one major. After talking it over with my mom, best friend, and boyfriend, I decided to officially not declare my Econ major, giving myself more time for shows, interesting classes, and sleep. I’m still going to take Econ classes, but not having the pressure of another set of requirements means that I can take the classes that I want to.

A month later, I feel great, and the happiest I’ve felt since the beginning of the semester. I’ve known since my sophomore year of high school I want to work in Theater, and the experiences I’ve had in the Theater department at Oberlin have just confirmed that. When it came time to register for my spring classes, I realized how much freedom came with no longer having to stick to the highly regimented plan I had made for myself at the beginning of freshman year. As my mom helpfully pointed out, I came here to take lots of random classes and try new things, and now that I know my focus I’ve been able to branch out. Next semester I’m taking two Theater classes (Lighting Design and Stage Management Practicum), an English class (Drama Survey), and an Economics class (Game Theory for Social Sciences), and I can’t wait.

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