October 29, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Sierra Romero

Choosing a major is hard. You start your first year of college with an entire world of possibilities at your fingertips, the pathways seemingly endless. But then you’ve got to pick something and really focus on that one area. That’s not to say you can’t still try out classes in different departments, but you do invest a lot of yourself in the major you choose.

When I was in high school –– as young as a freshman, even –– I was already getting the question of where I wanted to go to college. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of Colorado College, and thank goodness I didn’t have to make that decision as a 15-year-old. But as soon as I started hearing back from colleges and eventually chose CC, all people wanted to know was what I planned on majoring in. And then it was, “Oh, do you want to go to grad school after?”

I hated getting asked those questions by pretty much everyone, especially when things really started to heat up senior year. Every conversation had some trace of college talk. With parents, classmates, teachers, family friends. At every holiday, school function, the supermarket. It felt like it permeated every part of life.

People always want to know what’s next. There’s this expectation that, as a young adult, you’ve got a plan for a few years down the road. At least for me, that’s never been the case. Not even close.

Naturally, it was hard to answer those questions about where I wanted to go to school and what I wanted to study without knowing the answers, myself. Sometimes I would just make stuff up; most people that asked wouldn’t even remember and would ask the same questions the next time. So why get torn up about trying to figure it out?

I’ve kind of maintained that mentality of not needing to know all the answers throughout my time at CC thus far. That might sound flippant or irresponsible, but I actually think it’s kind of the point of a liberal arts education –– aren’t we supposed to try new things and not take anything for granted? Aren’t we to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” as Thoreau so eloquently put it?

There’s something liberating and exciting when you’re uncommitted to a specific discipline. It’s a kind of soul-fueling experience that doesn’t come around all too often. Your job is to focus on yourself, figure out what you like, do things you’ve never done before and might never get to do again. It’s like being a free agent. Not bad, if you ask me.

I write this as a junior, still undeclared (I know, my poor advisors). While I know the direction in which I’m headed with a reasonable degree of certainty, sometimes I still wonder if I’m making the right decision. It’s not that I don’t like where I’m headed –– I obviously like it a lot, because it won out against all the other choices I had. I think it’s having to let go of other possibilities that might also have been wonderful.

This is, I think, why I’m so hesitant to officially declare a major. One, that feels like a big, adult step and means I need to start taking myself seriously. And two, the prospect of declaring feels not like a celebration of what I’ve chosen but a mourning of what I haven’t. It’s like all those other classes CC offers and other paths I could have chosen will disappear (they won’t, really, but sometimes it feels like that).

If I could go back to my first-year self and tell her something, it would be this: enjoy the time you have of not knowing. Take advantage of the flexibility it gives you, and don’t feel bad or embarrassed to say “I have no idea” when someone asks what your plans are. I think it’s better to acknowledge this than to pretend you know what you’re doing (which, let’s be honest, none of us do).

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