It’s Not a Major Issue

Elias Shakkour

“What’s your major?” Having barely arrived at Colgate, I was immediately barraged with that question but could never answer it. Hard as I tried to decide on the perfect major for me, I was always either too overwhelmed by the possibilities or too critical to be satisfied with a suitable major. The fact that everybody around me seemed to treat my choice of a major as the one around which my collegiate career would revolve did not help too much. The importance that was attributed to my major led me to be so consumed by the need to make a decision that I spent many a sleepless night fighting an inward battle through which I struggled to pinpoint the optimal major for me.

But despite the 50+ choices that Colgate offers, I did not seem to be getting any closer to making a decision. Ideally, I would have loved to major in linguistics or multiple languages, but those options were not available. Did I really want to go through the painstaking process of majoring in one language? I wanted the time and the money that I was investing in my Colgate education to be “worthwhile.” And my operational definition of worthwhile rested almost exclusively on my choice of concentration.

As my first year progressed, I decided to toy with the idea of a double major in geography and international relations. My rationale? “I should double major because that would maximize the benefits I would gain out of my education. I should not major in a language because I already study languages on my own anyway. I liked geography in high school and international relations sounds formidable.” My goal specified (or so I thought), I promptly signed up for a course each in geography and IR.

Fascinated by the idea of study abroad and interested in Colgate’s Madrid and Dijon study groups, I also took some requisite French and Spanish courses. Although I thoroughly enjoyed those courses but found my IR course insupportable (the geography course was wonderful), I still insisted on not majoring in a language and figured the IR course was a means to an end. My freshman advisor made it clear to me that my majoring in IR instead of a language would be similar to Richard Feyman’s having studied art instead of physics, but I would hear none of it.

Another dismal IR course later, the deadline for declaration of a concentration was fast approaching. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had altered my major plans. Acknowledging a conclusion I had been aware of all along – that IR was not the field for me – I finally ended that miserable pursuit. Geography was still progressing well, but I had taken a liking to an appealingly novel idea.

I had convinced the Division of Humanities to allow me to declare a topical concentration in both French and Spanish. Patting myself on the back for taking advantage of the system to the fullest, I submitted my declaration of concentration form with a flourish. Meanwhile, I clung to the geography major because I was still set on double majoring.

By then, I had been accepted to both the Madrid and the Dijon study groups for the fall and spring of my junior year, respectively. I had everything planned out: during that year, I would take the Spanish and French courses necessary for my major, and that would leave senior year for geography.

But then Middlebury happened. As a student at Middlebury College’s German School the summer after sophomore year, I learned German and absolutely fell in love with the language. The experience was so poignant that those seven weeks would steer my educational career in an entirely new direction.

In Spain that fall, I considered the idea of participating in Colgate’s Freiburg study group instead of Dijon. I even entertained the idea of including German in my major! I did end up in Freiburg, but driven by the prospect of pursuing honors in my major (which is complicated with a topical concentration), I had decided to major only in German. Not to be forgotten, geography would still be my second major.

After hopping around Europe for a year, I’m back on campus for my senior year. And guess what? I’ve made yet another change to my concentration, but this time the turn was decidedly in the opposite direction.

Faced with a frightening course selection consisting of three rigorous geography courses required for the major, I made one final radical decision that has led me to pen this article. After three years of bending over backwards to double major in various fields, it became all too clear to me that it simply wasn’t worth it. Taking a step I would have considered unthinkable last month, I decided to go for a minor in geography instead of a major.

Had I stuck with the major, I would have had to unnecessarily exert myself to fulfill all the requirements. By switching to a minor, I could select interesting courses, and – probably for the first time in my college career – take an elective course purely out of interest.

Looking back, I realize that it was at the times that my motives were purest (not corrupted by desires for elaborate-sounding majors) that I enjoyed myself the most. Sure, going to Europe effectively precluded majoring in geography (at least not without losing my sanity), but was it worth it? One hundred and ten percent – I was doing what I wanted to do.

A professor once advised me, “Just major in something you like, and take whatever courses interest you on the side.” Nonsense, I thought. I’m going to create a topical concentration and double major and…

I have learned so much about myself throughout this process. I have learned that I possess an insatiable appetite for the new, the different, the challenging. I have learned that I will probably never achieve all of my ambitions. Most of all, though, I have learned that it truly does not matter what your major is or how many majors you have – as long as you do what is right for you.

Make your college experience what you want it to be. You decide on what courses to take – not a lofty set of requirements in an impersonal catalogue. Choose one major – because you have to – but be creative with the rest of your courses.

After all, you want the time and the money you’re investing in your Colgate education to be worthwhile.