In this blog post, our writers discuss their experiences in their respective college major, how they chose it, and whether or not their studies matched their expectations.
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What is your major? When did you decide your major? Did it feel too late?
Chase: I am a third year computer science major at Columbia. I decided to major in computer science during my junior year of high school, in my AP Computer Science Principles class. Like many STEM applicants, I could have benefitted a good bit from knowing my major earlier. However, since I was able to spend my junior summer working on a programming project, I was able to make a strong narrative that blended together the extracurriculars I did before starting computer science.
Maria: I am a junior majoring in history and anthropology. Knowing your college major early can be a huge advantage, but it didn’t work out that way for me, as I decided to major in history at the end of my freshman year and anthropology at the end of my sophomore fall. For humanities and social science majors, it is normal to not know what you are going to study until sophomore year, so I felt like I decided earlier than my peers. Ironically, I applied to Barnard as an anthropology major not really knowing what it was, but thinking it might be a niche subject that would help my chances. I felt obligated to take an intro to anthropology class, and I ended up really liking it!
Cory: English Literature major (the only respectable major)(if you’re willing to be a monk). I decided to major in English around my senior year (which sucks because I didn’t really have an opportunity to strengthen my college application with English-major-y things.) I wish I had discovered my passion earlier— so that I could’ve been more intentional about how I pursued my extracurriculars.
What was the biggest influence in choosing your major?
Maria: The biggest influence for my majors were my classes. In high school, I had always leaned towards the humanities, but taking classes in history and anthropology really cemented my interests. I won’t pretend like they were classes I loved every second of, but I remember being fascinated by concepts discussed in class. I knew these were the subjects for me when I kept thinking about them outside of lecture.
Cory: I also think classes were a big factor for me. I really loved my English teachers: from my teacher who had us perform Shakespeare, to my teacher who asked us provoking philosophical questions about Emerson’s theories of transcendentalism. It changed the way I lived my life.
Chase: For me, my interests in classes weren’t a main factor in choosing my college major. My favorite subjects in high school were English, history, and other humanities fields. However, when it came to deciding on my major, I placed work-life balance and potential earnings above studying my passions. I knew that I wanted a career that would only require four years of college, so this ruled out most careers in the humanities. Additionally, working in a high-stakes environment like investment banking, although it has immense pay, doesn’t appeal to me at all.
One of my priorities was to choose a major that would lead me to a career with a 40 hour week and a work-life balance that leaves space for personal time. My final requirement was the ability to make a comfortable living in a big city, despite knowing I didn’t want to be overworked. Ultimately, I knew software engineering would be a career that could fulfill these requirements. So, although AP Computer Science wasn’t my favorite class, I knew that it could lead me to a career that could lead to more enjoyment outside of the workplace.
Does your major line up with your expectations? What is the same and what is different?
Cory: I chose to be an English Literature major, for no other reason except that I loved it. During my third year it really hit me: what am I going to do with this college major? In short, I expected to study literature and open my mind to the intricacies of language, culture, and philosophies and I got that. I didn’t expect to be confronted with the possibility that there would be few positions available in the job market for English professors and that the audience for scholarly writing would be so narrow. So it’s made me wonder about the extent to which I want to pursue passion over practicality.
Maria: As a fellow humanities major, I’ve had a lot of the same concerns as Cory about the job market. I chose my majors because they were subjects I found fascinating, but I didn’t really think about the limited opportunities for history or anthropology majors, especially outside of academia. Something that I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t love all of my classes. Although you should ideally enjoy most of them, I found my Anthropological Theory class pretty boring. That doesn’t mean I chose wrong, as there will be at least one or two classes you will not like but are required. However, something that I hoped to learn was to see the world in an entirely new way. This has definitely been the case and I have appreciated the classes that have taught me this.
Chase: Since I came into college knowing that I wasn’t majoring in what I considered to be my passion, I have mostly had my expectations met. Classes are tough, but not impossible if you are clever about which ones you take. Likewise, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to grow my professional skills in programming. Overall though, I have grown very happy with my choice, especially as I uncover the creative aspect of software development that wasn’t as clear to me in high school.
Some unexpected downsides of computer science are the gap between the knowledge which you learn in school and what is expected of you as a software engineer in the workplace. Classes at most schools will provide you with a strong theoretical foundation, but they will often not teach a lot of the skills that you need to thrive in a real career. Thus, it is important to find opportunities or do self-directed studies to learn new frameworks and ways of programming, especially if you want to get into mobile or web development.