Editor’s Column: A Major Dilemma

Mitch Waxman

The second time my parents watched me leave for Colgate did not have the same waterworks display or the long, awkwardly extended hug. Instead there were nine words of warning, “Figure out what you want to study this year!” This demand is, for some, as natural as waking up in the morning. For others like myself, it is excruciatingly painful.

For me, the appeal of a liberal arts education was that I could try out many different areas of study. You cannot knock something until you have tried it, and a liberal arts curriculum allows you to do just that. Taking a wide variety of classes at the beginning of your collegiate career is wonderful, and in that sense a liberal arts school does a great job. Unfortunately if, like myself, a student loves the majority of the classes he or she takes in each field, it becomes nearly impossible to narrow down a major. For some students, there simply is no subject that generates a love worthy of taking ten classes. To those types of students, that demand produces the same chains that accompany students at non-liberal arts institutions.

When I think about this dilemma, I realize that there are some students who simply do not fit into one of the 51 majors that Colgate offers. Unfortunately for these students, Colgate does not emphasize the idea of creating one’s own major. If this idea were more widely discussed, students like myself would not feel so helpless as they try to make this important decision.

In speaking to a handful of friends at peer liberal arts institutions, they all commented on how their schools really stressed the idea that if students are interested in something the school does not offer, they can create their own major by coming up with an idea and then choosing classes from various fields to complete it. One such friend, a student at Davidson College, has dreams of being a food critic, and when she brought up this idea Davidson was eager to help her create such an opportunity. Her “food” major combines biology, history and chemistry classes and allows her to pursue her true passion.

I understand there may be naysayers who think that creating your own major is just a way of avoiding certain classes, but the process of creating the major itself would not be so simple. If each student interested had to write an essay to the Registrar explaining his thoughts behind this idea, including the name of the major and its overall theme, I believe many of those looking to simply take the easy way out would look elsewhere.

Another positive from the mandatory essay introducing each students’ idea would be that it would make the amount of extra work for the registrar’s office reasonable. The essays would include the classes the students wished to take, so it would simply be up to the Registrar to sign off on the major or not.

Whenever I tell people that I have no idea what I want to do with my life, I get the same answer, “Oh it’s okay. You have so much time.” Unfortunately for me I really do not. I have to declare a major by the end of this year. If Colgate made the idea of creating one’s own major more accessible, then maybe I would not be forced into having that same frustrating conversation time after time. If Colgate is truly a liberal arts school, then its students should be able to make their own decisions well beyond freshman and sophomore year.