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Discovering my Major

February 6, 2014

Coming into the University as a fresh-faced first-year student, and overwhelmed by just the idea of college life, I came on campus with at least one concrete decision: I was going to double major in Political Science and Communications. Now, I was dead set on this decision; no one was going to convince me otherwise. Though I was still unsure of my job prospects (possibly broadcast journalism), I knew that Political Science and Communications would really complement each other. I thought it would look far more lucrative to have two majors on my resume than just one, and it also helped that double majoring in these two departments was fairly easy since a lot of the classes were interdisciplinary. Suddenly, I’m in my second year at UW and doubts begin to linger  in my mind.  I am currently a declared Political Science major, and have taken a couple communications courses. I have become pretty apprehensive about this “dead set” decision and am truly wondering what I want out of my college education.

I’m still developing my thoughts on what major I will pursue, but I do know this: I want to be challenged. I want to push my current thinking and preconceived notions. I want to continually question and critique. I want to be a dedicated learner. But what major will that be? What department or college will provide this?

Here are a few personal journeys of students who have found their best fit majors. Remember: being on a different timeline and pace than others is absolutely fine and okay! There is not a norm.

Some people discover what they love through a study abroad:

sarah kislakName: Sarah Kislak

Year: Senior

Major(s): Public Health/Comparative History of Ideas

I knew I wanted to major in CHID after my study abroad to Bangalore, India. The program was lead by a CHID faculty member and attracted a lot of CHID students, and my in in depth time learning with these individuals made me realize what kinds of people and type of thinking CHID fosters. I was hooked. I wanted to be a part of this community that I observed to be so thoughtful, critical, and generous with the ways they spoke, wrote, and moved in the world. Public health is a major I came into college thinking I wanted to pursue, and the broad interdisciplinary curriculum was appealing to me. After taking a lot of the electives that focused on social justice and health, I decided to apply to the major to pursue the core curriculum. Public health is a very sexy topic right now and will continue to demand jobs (especially in Seattle).

Others are motivated by a professor :

addyson fratturaName: Addyson Frattura

Year: Sophomore

Major(s): Anthropology/Exploring other options

I knew I wanted to pursue Anthropology my first day of ANTH 215 (Medical Anthropology and Global Health). My professor, Rachel Chapman, stood in front of my class, turned on music, and began to dance. She then raised her hands, welcoming us to join her. Her absolute zeal and passion for the field of Anthropology inspired me and I fell in love with her alternative pedagogical practices. This was the first time in my education that I was truly inspired by a teacher who thus became a role model. When I met her in office hours and discussed how I refused to sell any of my Anthropology books because I valued them so much, she pointed to her bookshelf. On her bookshelf were her Anthropology books for undergrad that she kept as well. Every class, every discussion reaffirms my passion for Anthropology. While I do believe this is the field I am meant to be in, I often have the occasional doubts. What if this is not my right path? What am I really doing here? However, I have learned in Anthropology to embrace the unknown and uncomfortable, because from that comes understanding.

And others don’t figure out what they want until the right class totally shifts their perspective:

tony voName: Tony Vo

Year: Senior

Major(s): American Ethnic Studies/Public Health

Originally I came to the UW thinking I would major in Social Welfare and Public Health and eventually get into the Social Work Master’s program.  I’ve always had a passion for working with non-profits, and thought social welfare would fit best with those interests.  I was able to combine the two through programs like the University Health Education Leadership Program [UHELP] and through my volunteer services at the blood center in high school. I felt these two majors went hand in hand and would lead me to find a good job that I cared about.

I then added on nursing as another major because I felt it was more practical. I would be a better social worker/public health worker with nurse credentials. I would be able to find a career, have a stable income, and be the first in my family with a science degree.  These thoughts flooded my head and I did everything I could in my power to ensure a spot in the #1 nursing school, I volunteered 20 hours a week, got myself involved in numerous activities, and continued to work as a student to get one of these coveted spots in the school.

[I switched majors because] I loved American Ethnic Studies!  Connie So is one of the best professors here at the UW. Taking her classes helped me understand my own identities as an Asian American and gave me a new perspective on how I viewed society.  I felt like AES gave me a very in-depth understanding about race relations that could be applied to any field I work in, so I switched from Social Welfare to AES.  Then I switched out of the nursing school a year after my admittance.  This was a major change in my life and a major challenge that I battled.  I realized that I couldn’t be in a field for the money. While I enjoyed caring for people, I knew that nursing was not the right fit for me.  I debated because I knew I would be happy with a steady and stable income and job, but at the expense of my happiness?  Ultimately, I made one of the biggest decisions in my life and dropped out of the nursing program.

All of these students are satisfied with their academic path today, but divergent paths led them there. Here’s some words of wisdom that will hopefully help you in your discovery of your best fit major.

Top 10 Pieces of Advice from the Students

  1. Sarah: Pick classes based on who is teaching it.

  2. Sarah: I recommend finding professors and mentors that can help guide you. Thinking about and finding faculty and staff on campus to support and challenge you is perhaps the most important.

  3. Sarah: I have always prescribed the process of elimination strategy. I think trying out as many kind of different classes, clubs, or events as you can is a good way to keep your pulse on multiple spheres of the University. From there it is important to reflect on what is most important to you and pursue a discipline from there.

  4. Sarah: Finding leaders that you can connect with and learn from is so important, so be forthright and pursue those relationships.

  5. Addyson: My advice would be to try to not restrict yourself to classes, clubs, or activities that align with your major or to build up your resume. While, having a good resume is fantastic, try anything that really catches your interest and pursue that; it may turn into something.

  6. Addyson: Always ask questions! Ask your professors, your TA’s, your advisor, and your peers. These questions might lead you to a passion.

  7. Tony: Ask yourself, can I see myself doing this for the next 5-10 years?  Will I enjoy it?  I’m not saying to take only the classes you are required to take, I’ve taken so many fun classes like archaeology, architecture, or public speaking, but if you can’t see yourself doing something with your major or can’t apply that knowledge to other fields of work, then that’s a major sign that that might not be the right fit.

  8. Tony: Explore. I’m a fifth year senior and I do not regret taking chances and throwing myself into a completely new field of study.

  9. Be engaged. Some of my greatest learning environments was when I did research or was actively participating in the community. Learning in the classroom can only go so far, applying what you’ve learned through hands on experience makes you an active learner.

  10. Sarah: Your major matters very little to everyone but you and your parents. Think about what is exciting to you and pursuing that will make you marketable in all the right ways. The work we do is only good if we ourselves doing it are good. We should be thinking about finding majors that make us good people, that challenge our perspectives, teach us how to think critically, and nurture us through the process. This creates a certain kind of individual that is marketable, no matter the major.

This quarter has been the most risky for me. I’m taking an American Ethnic Studies, Comparative History of Ideas, and Jackson School of International Studies courses- courses not within the department of my “dead set decision.” Surprisingly, I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be because I love attending my classes and actually look forward to it in the morning! My piece of advice follows on the same lines as that other students: Explore! I really wished my first year, I took more exploratory classes that weren’t within the majors I was set on. Maybe I could have tried out coding in a CSE class, or throwing pottery in Art. However, I’m still a sophomore! I have time to dip my toes in new water and solidify my decisions. I definitely won’t let my year restrict the amazing opportunities that the UW has. My passions lie within politics and social justice, but what department(s) will best accommodate to that? Political Science, GWSS, AES, CHID, and/or a newly discovered major that I have yet to look into? The college has so many options and opportunities! Now this can be overwhelming, but this just means that there are more chances to explore and discover!

Do you have any major discover stories to share? Comment below and share your experience and knowledge!

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