College comes at you fast. And I mean really fast. It seems like I just graduated from high school and was preparing to matriculate and pick courses for my first semester at Yale, yet now I’m somehow halfway finished with my junior year.
Still, I can clearly recall my uncertainty leading up to move-in day. I was asking myself all sorts of questions: Who would I hang out with? How would I adjust to the East Coast weather? Would classes be too hard? Interestingly, though, the questions that troubled me most were all centered around where I would focus my studies.
Like many eager freshmen, I was ambitious — perhaps overly so. When people would ask what I wanted to study, I would respond with something like, "I’m going to triple major in African-American studies, political science, and economics, but also minor in pre-med just in case I end up wanting to be a doctor." It was a ridiculous answer, but I didn’t want to feel boxed in.
It’s natural to try and nurture your many interests, but the point of a major is to focus on what you are most interested in, then develop yourself in that area. Here’s what I’ve learned from becoming a sociology scholar, and what you can do to make your choice a little easier.
1. See where your interests lead you.
You look through your school's course catalog and are overwhelmed by all the options. Some classes interest you, others you think might be useful in life, and others are simply requirements for graduation. Step back. Make a list of all of these and then see what concentration the majority fall under. That should be the first indication of what major may be a good choice for you.
I knew that I was interested in exploring the conditions around which I grew up — poverty, violence, and a lack of resources and predominately Black inner-city communities. But I didn't realize that this was something you could actually study in an academic setting. When I found classes with titles like "Guns in the United States" and "Ethnography of the African-American Community" under the sociology umbrella, I knew I was on the right track.
2. Tap into your natural talents.
I stand firm that some people, based on their life experiences or the nature of their character, are more inclined to gravitate toward areas like math, the social sciences, or music. Consider your natural strengths when choosing a major. Ultimately, you are much more likely to excel in something that you both enjoy and have a natural talent for.
I realized this was the case with sociology and I when I began having intellectual debates about the conditions surrounding people of color, especially Black people. In high school, I was on the news for my academic achievements and heard criticisms like, "Why is this newsworthy?" or "Black people are just lazy. He's proof they can be successful if they just try.” I would go on to explain how Black people had been purposefully limited to communities with less resources, and poor schools and public facilities. When I look back, it’s clear I had an understanding of sociology long before I knew what it was or chose it as my major.
3. Talk to those who have done it before you.
I found it extremely helpful to speak with Black males on campus who were majoring in areas that I was considering. (I say Black males because that's who I most relate to, but someone else might be a far better resource for you.) Consulting with Yale’s sociology professors and administrators also helped solidify my choice. Professors are great resources when it comes to figuring out which classes count toward your major, what summer opportunities to consider, and potential career paths within a given major, so it’s best to speak with them early and often.
4. Think about where your major can take you.
My major has exposed me to role models in sociology, from my professors to people in government positions. They’ve revealed to me a career path that I didn't even know existed before college, but now realize is perfect for me. I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology in order to inform a fruitful career as a public and social policy advisor. I feel that a lack of representation of people of color in positions that inform policies and affect our communities is part of the reason issues of inequality have plagued communities of color for so long. Not only do I want to have a impactful voice in these decision-making circles, but I also want to encourage the next generation to pursue higher education in these fields to continue this type of work.
Yes, a major is what you ultimately study in school, but it can be much more. Consider whether the most common jobs that come out of a given major intrigue and drive you. When I reflect on my major, I get excited thinking of all the doors it has opened and will continue to open for me. I am pumped up by all that I have learned and will continue to learn. If your potential major doesn’t spark these types of feelings, it’s a strong sign to go back to step one and think about some alternatives.
Images courtesy of Akintunde Ahmad