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The dichotomy of choosing a major

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JUSTIN WANG | STAFF

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MARCH 03, 2022

From the moment we step foot on campus, there’s a ticking timer looming over us. While a lucky few are already secure in their majors and career choices, for some, the clock will dwindle to zero by the end of their first year; for others, they receive another blessed year. If you’re in the same boat as me, you feel the pressure of the deadline weighing on your shoulders. 

When I applied to UC Berkeley, I had little clue as to what I wanted to dedicate the next four years of my life to. During the last few years, my career aspirations have swung like a pendulum: from singer to astronomer to author. How could I, then, so easily decide on a college major if I couldn’t trust myself to stick to one path? Thus, I made what seemed like the most logical decision at the time and applied to the College of Letters and Science. I thought I would buy myself time and allow myself to explore every possible option. 

I went to the UC Berkeley major catalog and clicked on each major’s requirements, although some have prerequisites longer than I am in length. But I needed time to try new things.

As an undeclared student, I felt as if I was missing an unofficial badge that marked me as someone who belonged at UC Berkeley. I felt as if being “undeclared” was a sign that I was aimless. So I threw myself into classes. I went to info sessions, talked to classmates and tried a variety of classes; I did everything a newbie was supposed to do; I narrowed down the fields I was interested in; I developed new skills and hobbies.

So where is the problem? 

As the introduction implies, the problem is time. Here lies the dichotomy. Majors needed time to complete, yet I needed time to choose a major. It was a tug-of-war. I needed security in myself and my choices to make a decision, but it was my insecurity in my career aspirations that required time. 

I was rushing, pedaling as fast as I could. To obtain a degree, there are numerous steps to be taken. Perhaps you met with a major adviser. You had to take all of the prerequisites and lower-division courses. Then, there were the upper-division courses. Burying yourself with an all-nighter just to obtain that B- necessary to declare. And don’t forget the college and campuswide requirements that pile on your plate. There were so many things to do, and it felt like there was so little time. How could I know what I wanted to major in if I didn’t take the time to find out? Yet, how could I finish my degree in four years if a major required so much time? The sunk costs of the invested time and effort we spent into our chosen major deter us from making a change. The requirements alone felt suffocating — as if I was forced to choose when I wasn’t ready. 

So, what did I do: What can I do? 

Well, first I took a breath. No, seriously. I took a breath. Then, I curled up in my dorm room and read a book. I wish I could say there was an easy answer, but like most things, there isn’t. Instead, I focused on the present. 

The idea of a lifelong career swirling in my mind scared me. It made me feel unprepared, ignorant and weak. Once my stressful thoughts kicked in, it was easy to spiral from there. If I chose the wrong class or major, would I fail at college? Would I fail at life? When I halted the theoretical monster of adult life, mortgages and retirement funds in my brain, I broke the goal of getting a degree into digestible chunks. What prerequisites do most majors share; what fields do I already know I like; should I take summer classes? 

I made a plan, and seeing it all laid out in front of me, helped settle an anxious sliver of my mind. “This doesn’t seem so bad now,” I told myself. These were tangible, repeatable actions I could take to ensure my own progress. There were numerous common prerequisites that practically every major in a field would require. I focused on essential campuswide requirements first. I made appointments with major and college advisors and asked for their help in creating a plan for my college career. All of this would allow me to take active steps toward my future while giving myself room to breathe. 

In doing so, the fear and insecurity that came with the unknown — in this case, not knowing my future career choice — didn’t morph into security but instead, an acceptance of the degree of control I had in my own future. 

When I leaned back in my chair and set down my pen, I realized what I had done: I broke the dichotomy.

Contact Winnie Wang at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

MARCH 03, 2022


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