On Being Undecided After Declaring A Major

I am an anthropology major,

but some days I am not sure why or how or if I really even know what anthropology is. Like so many others, I came to Swarthmore undecided. I had no idea what I wanted to do or study. This is a mistake so many people including myself made and continue to make around college and degrees… that what you want to do or rather what you think you want to do, must also align perfectly with what you study.

 My first semester at Swarthmore I was overwhelmed. I decided I was going to be a studio art and theatre double major. After a trying semester, full of sickness and confusion, and a break which made me grateful for living close to home, I entered a new semester and was taken by a course entitled “Race, Gender, Class & Environment”. It was a course that cross listed with sociology/anthropology, environmental studies, gender & sexuality atudies, political science, English, and Black Studies and embodied the liberal arts interdisciplinary way of learning. For a moment, I decided that I could keep my options open. I would be smart and make multiple plans. That summer I worked at a sleep-away camp where one of my co-counselors described her dreams to be an environmental lawyer. Upon returning to campus my sophomore year, I felt the same urge. I would plan to go to law school after Swarthmore. I thought that if I believed in and was passionate about environmental justice that I, too should be an environmental lawyer.

Finally, that fall semester, I took a class with my now-advisor. It is one of the classes here that changed my life…but that story is for another blog post. It is with my advisor that I relinquished my desire to constantly put myself in scenarios about my future, effectively projecting that future without living in my life now. One of the best pieces of advice I had ever gotten at Swarthmore was to take classes that sounded good and excited me. The other part of the advice was to utilize add-drop.

Screenshot of a link Swarthmore’s website with advice about choosing classes.

 It turns out that I like the way anthropology classes sound and the way they are. And film. And art history. I like what I study, but I don’t know what I want to do. I think maybe I would be happy doing socially engaged art, or being a documentarian. But maybe I would end up somewhere else. It has taken me over half of college to be comfortable not knowing. 

Screenshot of tab on Swarthmore’s Sociology/Anthropology Department device for guidelines for declaring.

Swarthmore like almost all colleges requires you to declare an intended major your sophomore spring. Yesterday, I looked up what I wrote for my declaration paper and it made me cringe a bit. I had spent so much time perfecting my plan despite knowing that it functioned as an exercise rather than a decree. I used to feel a strong sense of discomfort as my friends and peers who appeared to be excited and sure about their course of study would implore me to reveal my “why anthropology” story. 

As a junior finishing up her fall semester, I recognize that my undecidedness or un-assuredness came with great privilege and flexibility. I continue my sketching and sewing knowing that although I am not a studio art major or theater minor, I can still be a costume designer. Maybe? I find humor in the cracks where logic does not seem to keep me safe. Most stereotypically, I gain strength from the ideologies of the liberal arts which say that an engineer can become a well known author AND be a musician AND a sustainable fashion designer. Because I believe in its truth. (And because I know someone who is almost all these—with the exception of well known author. Although I think he is well on his way).

Move-in day Fall 2017

Although I still become fearful in moments of doubt, and from retellings of horror stories from the “real world”, I can not help but revel in the space I am in because I know it’s a space that I was not in a few long-short years ago.

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