How do you choose a major?

How to Choose Your Major 101

Unfortunately this is not a class at Pomona.  So how do you do it?  How did I do it?

A major is a funny thing.  Some people come into college knowing exactly what they want to do.  Some of these people go ahead and do it; for instance, I know people who came in intending to be pre-med and are now applying to med school.  Some of these people who thought they knew have since changed their minds or readjusted or discovered something new, when the first thing didn’t work out or wasn’t as exciting as they thought it would be.  Other people, like me, come into college having absolutely no idea what to major in.  Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to focus on anything.  I wandered around a bit as I discovered that math was getting a little too abstract, and that despite good grades in high school English it wasn’t really my thing.  I needed something new.

My major is American Studies.  What is that, you wonder?  Don’t worry, so do I.  American Studies is one of those interdisciplinary humanities majors, and in Claremont it’s a program between the five colleges, making it an interdisciplinary intercollegiate ball of wonderfulness.  Ah, you think, one of those wishy-washy majors, huh?  No, no.  American Studies is super cool.  Plus don’t insult the humanities in front of me, I get very defensive.  American Studies is kind of a mix of history, ethnic studies, and a bunch of other things that each student chooses.  So, for me, American Studies also means politics, racial studies, gender studies, sociology, and more, as well as generally understanding American society and America’s position with respect to the rest of the world in a more complex and critical way.  It’s basically whatever you make of it.  I could write my thesis on how images like the Mona Lisa are appropriated by commercial advertising, or how non-English languages have flourished and died in the U.S., or how despite our climate in Southern California we mimic an Eastern building and lawn aesthetic that is unreasonable for our weather.  Cool, right?

Moving on from the shameless plugging of my own major.  How did I become an American Studies major?  We’re a rare breed, you know—I think there are only 3-5 of us in the Pomona senior class this year.  The truth is, I stumbled upon it quite accidentally.  I think the seeds were planted with my ID freshman seminar class.  I had wanted to get into the class on fairytales and was a bit disappointed to get my third choice, American Inequality.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this would inspire me to become interested in the inequalities and discrepancies in our history that have created all kinds of social differences that resonate to this day.  Just goes to show that what you want isn’t always what is good for you.

Spring of freshman year, I didn’t get into a couple classes that I wanted and found myself in a class entitled Intro to American Cultures.  It had a really interesting description, and I was suddenly more excited by class material than I had ever been before.  I didn’t speak out in class much but my two friends and I would discuss content from the class all the way back from Scripps.  Then at the end of the semester, the professors told us that this class was, in fact, the intro class to a whole major.  My reaction was something like: I can do more of this!?  I suppose I learned a bit about things not always working out as you might expect and exploring new directions as opportunities present themselves.

I knew I was sold when I saw the list of classes offered under the “American Studies” heading for the fall.  There were so very many that sounded absolutely fascinating!  How could I fit them all into four years?  I wasn’t all that excited about having to take American History for the major—I mean, been there, done that.  But the way we looked at history, from the point of view of those who didn’t always have a voice, brought it alive and made it relevant in a whole new way (I sound nerdy because I’m excited).  I know I love it because I go around telling people what I’m learning, reading, or writing about completely unprovoked.  I once kept my mom awake on a plane because I was excitedly explaining to my sister how the institution of slavery created the system of racialization that is still very much alive today.  See, I just got nerdy again.

American Studies has taken me all kinds of directions, from a class called “Race in American Politics”—my favorite that semester, despite its Friday afternoon slot—all the way to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.  I often wonder what I would be doing now if I hadn’t taken Intro to American Cultures.  But given the various amazing majors and all the cool professors at Pomona, I’m sure I would be doing something I was equally excited about.  Believe it or not, in the same semester I took the class that changed my life—er, major—Professor Grieman tried to convince me I should major in chemistry.  I never saw myself as a science major and I haven’t taken any more chem., but I regret leaving the department because the professors are all really awesome.  Of course, my American Studies (AMST, as we affectionately call ourselves) are really awesome, too.  We’re pretty lucky here at Pomona.  It must be the weather.

The other question people usually ask about American Studies is: so what do you do with it?  My answer is still: I don’t know.  Anything I want, I guess!  Perhaps it is not a “practical” major.  But I don’t mind; I believe in following my passions wherever they take me for now. My American Studies classes have often been my favorites, which has taught me something as well: it is truly important to love what you do.    I’ll figure out “practical” later.