What’s your major? If you’re a first-year like me, and maybe even if you aren’t, you’ve been asked this a lot over these first couple of weeks. Maybe you know for sure that you’re a neuroscience major. Maybe you’re kind-of sure that you’re an English major. Or maybe you have no idea; you feel overwhelmed and unsettled by even labeling yourself with a major. In any case, this seems to be a big topic of discussion (at least until we can all remember each other’s names). But it’s paramount that we remember why we’re in school in the first place. We are not here just to get a job; we’re here to learn and discover, not just about the periodic table, but about ourselves. We’re here to find, explore, and develop passions and curiosities. We’re here to change the world. While we all have to work to live, we are not alive to work.
For many of us, high school wasn’t about learning and self-discovery; it was about surviving. We convinced ourselves that if we didn’t get into the elite ivies (or Brandeis) we’d end up homeless on the streets. And so it follows that major choice became strictly an economic analysis—the safest path into the highest paying job. A little bit of research (googling “top majors 2014”) yields that engineering, computer science, finance, and of course law and health, come up at the top of that list. According to a recent Forbes article, the average starting salary of engineers is $63,000/yr, while the humanities and social sciences scrape by with $37,000/yr—sorry English majors. But performing such an analysis and calculating our chances based on income seems like a lousy way to go about living.
Sure, going to college gives us more job security and more materialistic satisfaction in the long run, but why are we looking for more security and material satisfaction? Are we insecure and discontent with our lives? I’m certainly not saying that anybody should forgo material altogether and starve on the streets, but chasing materialism will lead to an insatiable hunger of its own. Instead of trying to fill this void of insecurity and dissatisfaction with temporary material, why not fill it with something that lasts? Passions and curiosities never die. You gain and lose wealth because it’s out of your control, but what you love to do in this world, what you strive to understand, doesn’t go away until you find something more captivating.
I won’t assert that I know everyone’s plans, but I will say that we are outlining the paths we’ll follow for the rest of our lives, whether we like it or not. Just think about that for a second. If you still feel like you’re working towards an end—that this day, this week, this semester, or even this year is a necessary evil to achieve something bigger—I implore you to consider this: college is the something bigger. Take a class or join a club you’ve always wanted to try, or maybe even one you’ve never heard of. Don’t waste four years of your life (and a lot of money) studying something you decided on in the seventh grade, without even exploring your options first. Go outside of your comfort zone and take advantage of your time here. College has literally everything you need to explore each walk of life.
In college, you can develop your inner jock, artist, scholar, or whatever. Walking through Gosman last week, I saw a machine in the basketball courts that catches your missed shots and passes them right back to you, without you needing to move a step, and a machine in the swimming pool locker room that dries your bathing suit within seconds. This place has it all. But even if you’re not willing to dawn a speedo or pair of Jordans, how about trying out an intro class you’re not familiar with? Linguistics, computer science, sociology, philosophy, theater, Chinese music and its origins—whatever it may be, just go for it. If you end up not liking it that much, no big deal; it’s only one class out of around thirty two you’ll take in college. But if you discover something you really do love, and you find yourself eager for the next class, reading ahead in the textbook, and feeling mentally engaged and stimulated, then you’ve made it. “Work” becomes learning. “College” becomes home. Your “major” becomes your life.
You can take this time to do what you want to do. No, don’t act impulsively and nap all day, but do let your curiosities take hold of you. Free yourself from society’s expectations, curiosities, and passions, and become captive to your own. Did you know that Feminist Sexual Ethics in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is a class offered this semester? How about Mobile Application Development? Whatever classes you end up taking, majors you end up deciding on, and clubs you end up joining, or whatever—do it for yourself.