Major choices- I didn’t really think it was terribly important; after all, the most important thing is doing what you love and being comfortable. But that’s exactly why choosing a major, or department, is so important. I had been decided on Social Studies since freshman year. As an honors major, it’s challenging, it’s prestigious, it’s interesting, all my friends were doing it, so of course I’d do Social Studies, right? I thought I picked a major for the subject matter and the interdisciplinary design, the readings – the most defining theorists of our time, you know, the ones that those annoying know-it-alls like to slip into conversation? Anyway, I was completely set on Social Studies. But then, during sophomore year, I realized I didn’t feel quite comfortable in Social Studies. I realized that it didn’t meet my personal and academic needs. I realized that I was in Social Studies just for the prestige, but in my heart, I was a Sociology major.
It was hard at first to give up the allure of Social Studies. I moved back and forth- I felt I needed to prove I can do this major, the hardest social science major at Harvard. Will I still talk to my friends, who are staying in Social Studies? After much deliberation and conversation, I declared Sociology, knowing it was the right place for me, but my love affair with Social Studies wasn’t over. I wanted to take the 2nd semester of Social Studies 10, the introductory required class for Social Studies concentrators. I couldn’t take it unless I was a concentrator. Rules are rules. So I tiptoed, quietly, into the office of the undergraduate director of Sociology, within the tall white imposing building, 6th floor. I rode the elevator in nervousness, replaying my spiel- I believe this course will help forward me in Sociology. That’s what I’d say… I was worried that he would think that I wasn’t set on Sociology, that I was considering staying in Social Studies. The director knows my name, greets me with sincere enthusiasm. I feel worse. “So, I would like to take Social Studies 10b, spring semester, but I need to be a concentrator, so I would need to switch from Sociology to Social Studies- But, I wanted to hear your perspective, if it’ll mess up anything, like taking classes next semester, I won’t do it. I asked to take it but the Social Studies undergrad director said I must be a concentrator to take 2nd semester.” Would he grill me why?
His reply, I didn’t expect. “Sure, just remember to switch back to Sociology by the end of your sophomore year so you can take the junior tutorials.” Was it really that easy? “Really, you don’t mind?” “Doesn’t bother me, you should be able to take whatever classes you want. Now, you wanted to talk to me about your research paper?” We then spent the remainder of the appointment talking excitedly about my research project, with him totally getting what I wanted to do and asking challenging, but helpful questions and providing lots of resources.
I realized then that I wasn’t just picking a disciplinary major- I was picking a department. I was picking my peers, my advisors, my professors, the undergraduate director- this major choice wasn’t in a vacuum. The ease of conversation, his desire to help me figure out my desires and mold them to what classes I would take, I didn’t feel I had that in Social Studies. In Sociology, I was supported, I was challenged. It was only then that I was comfortable with my choice. I have finally broken up with Social Studies, and will not try to take their tutorial next semester, but will move forward wholeheartedly in Sociology.
Remember, CSO readers, whatever you do, make sure you do it because you truly want to, and do it because you know you’ll thrive. Prestige can be a seductive thing and can blind you from what really matters. I found an academic home in Sociology and I can honestly say, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Plus, it turns out the Sociology department at Harvard is the top 5 in the country, so who cares! 😀