We’d always been told that attending a liberal arts college meant that we’d be faced with an abundance of enticing classes, go to classes with too many overeager aspiring academics, and be exposed to an overflowing wealth of knowledge spanning every imaginable discipline. My inability to buckle down in one discipline during my first two years is proof that such buzzwords as “liberal arts” or “interdisciplinary,” which we all know and love and use, actually just point to a well-kept secret: that the freedom of a liberal arts education is sometimes a curse.
By the start of your third year at Pomona, you’ve seen it all: the religiously and overtly pre-med first-years who are shaken upon realizing that they may want to stray from the rigorous path ahead; the aspiring social scientists who constantly switch their concentration within the PPA major; or the music major turned CS major, the chemistry major turned philosophy major. At a school where the departments are many and the general ed requirements lax, all of this is possible, and we reassuringly applaud these students for their courage in pursuing the “right” discipline for them.
My experience was a little different, but really no less common. As a majorless first-year, I’d constantly have to reiterate my lack of a major, blurting out some bogus list of prospective majors I’d come up with on the spot. Not much changed as I finished up my area requirements, occasionally taking a mid-level course hoping it would ignite the interest that the intro course sparked. As my sophomore year came to close, the faintest light shone through the brush as I noticed a pattern. Just one perusal of the anticipated courses list was leaving me with a longer list of prospective classes than I wanted to deal with, a list of classes split evenly between the media studies and psychology departments.
After delighting in my newfound sense of direction, I unwittingly left Pomona for home, completely forgetting that there are formal processes for these sorts of things. I am here for a degree, after all, and it makes sense that the registrar’s office would want to know what I’ve chosen to study.
An email with the subject “Your undeclared major!” arrived in my inbox in mid-August, the first line of which is the title of this post. I was more than alarmed by threats to freeze my portal account during the add/drop period, which had me rushing to email my advisors, forwarding their replies to the registrar as literally the only semi-legitimate form of proof I could provide that I did in fact know what I wanted to major in! That was the best I could do without being able to sign papers in person, anyway.
This slight oversight of mine brought me back to earth from a frenzy in which I obsessed over so many of my long-term plans, from thesis ideas to prospective graduate programs. I know my inherited neuroticism will keep me prepared on that front, but officially declaring my major reminded me that things are just getting started. Having done so much exploring during my first two years, I’m just now as a junior getting the chance to dig deeper into the disciplines that excite me the most. More importantly, I’m glad to be in a place where you’re afforded the flexibility, resources, and guidance to make the best decisions for yourself, no matter how long they might take.