From a birds-eye view, college is an opportunity for getting your feet wet across both chartered and unknown places. As you conscientiously engage with your peers on the electric sidelines of ball games, the fleeting mess of the student green/plaza, or randomly across the dining hall table, you may leave conversations with your old perspectives turned sideways. Whether you are learning something new or forgetting something you once thought to be true, you constantly discover.
As students of the mind and pilgrims searching for something new, you are open to the pulsing, ever-present, student body who eagerly awaits the opportunity to share who they are. Somewhere along the way to college or during college, a discussion of your college major ensued between yourself and others or between yourself and your “own” opinions. As this conversation wrapped up, you were left with a new scale to weigh your major. The most common of these weight factors include the majors’ likelihood of post-graduation options, average job salary, respectability, “easiness” of the major, and “practicality” to real life.
How do you choose the right major(s) for you?
It’s easier said than done. If you know that studying your major gives you moments of exhilarating happiness when no one is looking (like Matt Damon in the photograph at the top), then that’s a good starting point to solving this puzzle.
A much too common notion is that finding your major is equivalent to finding yourself. The idea that you must look inward to discover the right major for yourself is a rampant misconception. Your college major(s) is as much a social decision that you’ll carry with you as it is an independent one. Whether you trust that your inclinations to study a particular major as well-founded or you don’t have an inkling of a thought of what to study, my number one piece of advice: bug both seasoned professionals and recent graduates with any and all the questions you have. They have both knowledge of the distinct majors and the job market. These mentors should even be a paramount resource you rely on as you maneuver yourself through college years. Just remember to take advice with a grain of salt, but digest it nonetheless. Times change, and so does advice.
Sometimes we forget: college majors were created for a reason. They exist to examine, categorize, record, experiment, tinker, clarify, observe, model, discern, play with, understand, and advance the knowledge we have of the world around us. Attaching a label of “usefulness” or “uselessness” to a major may be how some approach the conundrum of the perplexing expectation of ranking the “right” major, but I think all majors are created equal.
How UC Berkeley students would describe their majors to a 5-year old
Economics is “Figuring out what people want, how much of it, and at what cost.”
Gurik Sidhu, Economics & Computer Science Double Major
“Knowing what happened and why it matters.”
Patrick Thompson, History Major
“The study of really, really small living things, and how they interact with the world.”
Trevor Biddle, Microbial Biology
“Psychology is the study of people: why we do what we do.”
Forrest Sam, Psychology Major
Legal Studies “Is the study of learning why we can’t do the things we want!”
Ekkalux Nguyen, Legal Studies Major
Statistics is “Having a lot of numbers and seeing what they mean.”
Monsoon Pabrai, Statistics and Economics Double Major
Philosophy is “Getting clearer about our relationship to the world, to each other, and the types of beings there are.”
Anonymous, Philosophy Major
Public Health: “Its studying how to keep everyone healthy.”
Dylan Chiu, Public Health & Political Economics Double Major
“MCB is, the study of cells, the smallest unit of life and the many elements that compose the function and mechanism of how cells live.”
Raj Aurora, Molecular Cell Biology (MCB) Major
Computer Science is “Transferring the way you think about things to a machine.”
Theo Joseph, Computer Science Major
“The study of everything around us. Why? To make sure the world goes round.”
Alvaro Zayas, Environmental Science Major
Classics is “the idea that the world we live in now comes from an older world, and understanding how that older world worked is useful for today.”
Aidan Clark, Classics, Mathematics, and Computer Science Triple Major
“Studying why different people see America the way they do.”
Alec Kassin, American Studies Major
Mechanical Engineering is “Solving physical problems in the world as we see it.”
Junaid Maknojia, Mechanical Engineering Major, Global Poverty & Practice Minor
“English is the study of words you write and words written by others to connect the world”
Paula Carrizosa, English and Political Science Double Major
Bioengineering is “The study of how to take living things and make them better.”
Kadhir Manickam, Bioengineering Major, Synthetic Biology Concentration
Anthropology is “The study of why your society is the way it is & how the world can see each other.”
Greta Bedekovics, Anthropology and Political Economy Double Major
Russian Major is “The study of a great group of people that we sometimes misunderstand.”
Oscar Valencia, French, Russian, & German Triple Major
By magnifying the unadulterated meaning for each major’s existence, we can see that majors encompass a variety of topics, but they all derive their individual values from a study: the study of gaining understanding around why everything is the way it is and what we can do with everything there is.
How You Should Look at Majors
When it comes down to comparing majors, the fair comparison is made by digging deeper into knowledge and uncharted territory. This naked truth is often superseded by subjective measures of value including money, praise, and perceived respectability. We unintentionally, but continuously do education a disservice when we say, “Oh that major? That major is a joke. It is at the bottom of the college food chain…” rather than saying “My understanding of that major is that it has the potential to offer these insight in the following ways…, and based on that, I think a specific method utilized by this major is a weak point that can be improved by …”
That brings me to my point: In her book, Touching a Nerve, Patricia S. Churchland says, “We live in a matrix of social practices that shape our expectations, our beliefs, our emotions, and our behavior — even our gut reactions.” In order to be conscious about our opinions on different majors, I think we first need to be open to communicating Dr. Churchland’s thought to ourselves.
What Universities Really Are
Universities aren’t just institutions with libraries and classrooms stamped across the United States and the world. Their source of value is from the professors that work there (and of course, the students who attend there). Yes, the will to teach and the drive to be an excellent teacher is something that varies from professor to professor, and from class to class, but you owe yourself the opportunity to dive headfirst into your area of study. Whether that is by scouring Wikipedia, debating with a classmate, or clicking through YouTube videos, you owe yourself the unfaltering achievement of critically engaging with your major.
Regardless of what others label your major as, you owe yourself and everyone else the curiosity of following questions that make their way into your head. That’s how learning is done. That’s how you move thinking and action forward.