Answering that (major) question: Getting from Point A to Point D(egree)

Experiencing minor stress over choosing a major or minor? Senior Lia White shares a personal perspective on finding an academic path.

Lia White 

The number one query you will be asked in college is “What are you majoring in?” You will be asked this by relatives, new friends, old friends, your dental hygienist, anyone you sit next to on a plane, and random people on the street. If you wear any piece of college clothing out in public, nine times out of ten, you will get asked what you’re studying. For some people, it’s an easy answer because they’ve known that they wanted to study biology since the lifecycle of a butterfly unit in first grade. Other people come into college very undecided about what they want to specialize in and struggle to find something that sticks. And plenty of people come into college thinking that they’re going to major in one thing and then change their mind completely.

All of these paths are valid and can get you where you want to be, i.e. graduating college with a degree that you’re proud of. One of my favorite things about WashU is that it gives you the flexibility to play around with classes before you declare a major in the spring of your sophomore year. I would say that a vast majority of the WashU students I’ve talked to have changed what they’re studying at some point during their time here, myself included. Everyone’s academic path is different, but hopefully sharing mine will help relieve some of the stress that can come with picking your major(s) and/or minor(s).

I was always going to study English. That was pretty much set from middle school. When I was applying to colleges, my first requirement was a good English program. My English courses at WashU have not only increased my interest in the subject, but also helped me find out what I want to specialize in. I’m lucky to have a subject that I’ve loved for a long time, but even though the English major was an easy choice, I wanted to explore more options on top of that.

In my junior and senior years of high school, I got heavily involved in social justice movements, which led me to discover Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, better known as WGSS. My thought process was pretty straight forward: if I like talking about it with people, maybe I’ll like studying it closer. I took two WGSS classes at WashU, one in each semester of my first year, and by the second semester decided that I didn’t want to formally study it. While I enjoyed the classes, I found that I preferred to just talk about it casually with friends, so I turned to other areas.

In the final month of high school, my government class created a Mock Senate, and I absolutely loved it. I rewrote the Iran Nuclear Deal (very badly), came up with a Supreme Court Justice nomination policy, and Voter Identification Act. I rode the high of that unit into class registration in July and decided to take American Politics in my first semester. The course was phenomenal, especially because it took place during the 2016 election, and I started telling everybody that I was going to study political science.

I didn’t technically declare my double majors in English and political science until winter of my sophomore year, but when I finally did it I was confident. I knew that these majors would help me be successful in public policy, which was the career path I was aiming for. That goal stayed consistent for about a year and a half, until everything changed.

"I knew that these majors would help me be successful in public policy, which was the career path I was aiming for. That goal stayed consistent for about a year and a half, until everything changed."

I studied abroad in London in the fall of my junior year, and when I came back, something just clicked. I had been feeling unsure about political science for a while, and going to London reminded me how much I love theater and English. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my political science classes, but I just wasn’t as passionate about it as I wanted to be. The public policy track had felt so right for so long and had been such a perfect answer to the often-dreaded question of “What are you going to do after you graduate?” But I had to face the reality that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. It was a full mid-college crisis.

So I talked to just about every person I know to help me figure out what to do next. One of my favorite parts of WashU is the supportive environment, and I utilized that to the best of my ability. I talked to my four year advisor, my English advisor, my career advisor, heads of different departments, and of course my parents and friends. They all affirmed what I was feeling, and so I made some changes.

The trusty English major, of course, stayed steady. I dropped my political science major to a minor because I a) still really enjoy the subject and b) don’t want to have wasted all those classes. I could have stopped there, but my epiphany had also come with the realization that I wanted to study drama. I had already taken a few courses in the Performing Arts Department, and after talking to some professors, I discovered that adding a minor in drama would definitely be feasible, so I declared that as well.

So here I am, going into my senior year, with a major in English and double minors in theater and political science. Do I know what I’m going to do after I graduate? Not really. But I know that I’ll have options, and I know that most importantly I have time to figure it out.