I didn’t know what I wanted to major in when I started college, but I had a lot of wild ideas. I knew I wanted to make time for all the subjects I was interested in that I hadn’t had the opportunity to take in high school. I’d finished all my high school’s Latin courses by the second semester of my sophomore year, and was eager to resume my studies, so that was one of the first courses I selected for my first semester at college. Similarly, I had been unable to participate in any kind of theater since middle school, and eagerly signed up for pretty much the only theater class freshman can get into – the one where we have to do the department’s grunt work. I rounded out my choices with a course on Roman Law and an Introduction to Archaeology course that focused on South Africa. Since Wesleyan has no required classes, I was free to choose classes that I was genuinely interested in, and I pretty much figured that I would just major in all the departments that I was currently taking classes in – Theater, Classical Civilization, and Archaeology.
I blame this over-enthusiasm on the fact that at my high school there had been very little room for electives. For five years – since the eighth grade when we began taking some courses that counted towards our high school GPA – I had been solely focused on excelling in every course that I was required to take, no matter what the subject. I knew that making good grades was my ticket to a good college, but, believe it or not, I never put much thought into what I would do once I got there – there wasn’t time for that. I was pretty unprepared to start picking and choosing the courses that would (at least in my freshman mind) begin to determine my entire future.
And silly though it may seem that in my first weeks of college I decided to be a triple major…I did indeed end up graduating with three majors, though that doesn’t mean my plans didn’t change a lot during the next four years. By the beginning of sophomore year, I had decided to drop the Archaeology major, my research leading me to believe that it was rather unusual for a school to offer undergraduate degrees in archaeology at all – it was more typical to major in Classics or History, then later complete a graduate degree in archaeology. So I was feeling pretty good about my life choices when, on the very last day of a writing class I took on a whim (and I mean a whim…I don’t even remember making the decision to enroll), my professor told me that I should be an English major.
It was as if someone had shaken me awake. OF COURSE I should be an English major. I was good at writing, I loved books and close reading – but I had never even considered it before that moment. Unlike the subjects I eagerly signed up for at the beginning of my freshman year, English wasn’t something that I felt like I was missing out on after high school – I’d had enough of essays and dead poets! I thought that everyone expected me to be an English major since I was such an avid reader, and so it was the one thing I steered clear of at college for a really long time. But that wasn’t a good reason not to give something I was so obviously interested in a chance, and I’m very grateful now that fortune gave me a push in the direction that I needed (especially since I’ve just finished applying to a number of English Ph.D. programs!).
Being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to drop either of the majors to which I had already poured so much work, but instead simply added on English as, yes, a third major. In no way, shape, or form was completing three majors simple, especially since I was a bit late in starting the English requirements, but it ended up being the right choice for me. Each of my majors was vital in shaping my college experiences and relationships, from my freshman year Latin professor becoming my advisor and helping me gain admittance to my study abroad program on a full scholarship to my work in the costume shop which became such a big part of my college life – though it’s certainly not something I would recommend for everyone.
If I had any advice to give on choosing a major, it would be to learn from my greatest strength and my greatest weakness in choosing a major: Don’t be afraid to try the things you’ve always wanted to – and don’t worry if they don’t turn out exactly as you’d expect. At the same time, don’t disregard an area of interest just because it’s something you were good at in high school. If you want to leave old passions behind and create a new identity for yourself, that’s fine – but make sure you’re leaving them behind because you are no longer interested in them, and not just because they’re old. You’ll probably change your mind a few times – almost everyone does – but I bet you’ll probably end up right where you’re supposed to.