not for the majority
Every week, an email appears in my inbox from a woman I’ve never met. Her name is Jeanne, her occupation undetermined.
But this woman knows me—or at the very least my email address. And with it, she sends push notifications to my inbox, alerting me that the Wild Gift Fellowship deadline is approaching fast. Uh oh.
But alas, Jeanne’s good intent is wasted on me. Because the Rebecca she addresses is outdated.
In that dark time when the Common App was my top-visited site and 16 versions of The College Essay littered my desktop, the Brown supplement prompted me to select a concentration. Fueled by my most recent viewing of “Erin Brockovich,” I chose environmental studies.
At the time, I was so delighted to be answering a question from a drop list and not having to craft my own 250-word response that I didn’t care deeply about what I chose. And so, just like that, Jeanne came into my life, as I came into her environmental studies listserv.
But Jeanne doesn’t know that within a few weeks of getting to Brown, ironically, my interest in the environment faded. I took one ENVS class, quickly understood I didn’t speak, think, or write with the same passion as the rest of my classmates, and I moved onto my next concentration—health and human biology.
That life decision lasted about four months. Many more would follow. But the dispassionate tale of how, again and again, I would land on a concentration, look around the classroom, deem myself out of place, and head back to the drawing board of Focal Point, is best left unremembered. From health and human bio, to literary arts, to English, to urban studies, I have been on a journey across disciplines that has not yet come to an end. I’ve never tried so hard to put myself in a box and failed so miserably.
But the stress of this failure has been cushioned somewhat by my growing conviction that majors may not matter in the first place.
In a period of my life marked by a state of intense distress over life trajectory, I took to looking up the majors of successful people. I wanted to know the extent to which their choice impacted their careers. Did Einstein major in physics? Was Goldman Sachs composed entirely of econ majors? Was the world so clearly delineated?
The answer to that is, of course, sort of. Einstein did major in physics, but the CEO of Goldman Sachs was a government major. Kurt Vonnegut majored in chemistry. Ashton Kutcher did biochemical engineering. “Weird Al” Yankovic chose architecture.
This mismatch of concentrations and careers is not limited to the rich and famous. Many people, athletes and architects alike, have a tendency to drift further and further away from their major over time.
The other day I was talking to a friend, Lucy Gibson, who graduated Brown three years ago. Lucy, like me, did not have a specific career in mind when she chose to double major in comparative literature and art history. But it didn’t matter.
“Judging from my coworkers, it doesn’t particularly matter what anyone majored in,” Lucy told me. Though concentrating in comp lit undoubtedly contributed to Lucy’s decision to work in publishing, she thinks her boss’s decision to hire her likely had nothing to do with the two majors typed out on her transcript.
Her friends are further proof of this lack of concentration-profession correlation. “Most of the people that I knew [at Brown] were doing humanities… but I would say 75 percent of them have gone into start ups, into marketing, into brand development and consulting—it’s all easy going” she told me.
This leads me to my next conviction, a natural progression from my first theorem—if majors don’t matter, then we shouldn’t have them.
Brown considers itself progressive. We don’t have majors; we have concentrations. And compared to basically every other university in the world, we are incredibly progressive. Unlike England where the students commit to their profession at 15, we at Brown are spoiled with choice, only needing, for some concentrations, to fulfill 10 requirements—a little over a year’s worth of classes. But, at the risk of sounding like a whiney kid in a candy shop, I want Brown to go further: I want it to get rid of mandatory majors.
Concentrations or majors—whatever it feels most liberal to call them—are all in place because they’re thought to provide direction. Everyone is convinced that, without majors, students would flounder and inevitably drown in a Banner filled with 3000 courses and no filter with which to sift through them all.
But for many students, the filter they’re given, this shining beacon of light that is the major, is the equivalent of picking a concentration out of a hat. It’s a guiding force, but a random one.
The future politicians, doctors, bankers, engineers—these are the people the major is tailored for. With their declarations of Political Science or pre-med, they can sift through Banner in the way it’s meant to be, only adding classes to their cart that will make them smarter, better, faster, stronger in their fields.
But majors are a stumbling block for students like me who find themselves floating from discipline to discipline each semester. The same people who will eventually pick their majors because they desire to graduate and because it’s where they have the most course credits. The people who will likely not be part of the 27 percent of college graduates nationally who work in a job that relates to their major.
Obviously, college is a time to soak up knowledge you can use in your professional life. But when you don’t know what your professional life is going to hold, why stress about a major—a fake life path that most likely won’t ever be walked on—and waste time on all the requirements that come along with it?
Lucy and all the other Brown alums I’ve met give me the living, breathing, work-attending, paycheck-bearing proof that I will end up doing a job I love where I excel. But for someone with such disparate and half-baked interests as me, it is not my major that will push me there, but the random forces of life and luck swirling outside College Hill.