This guest post was written by Sarah Sherman, a combined English and Biology major here at NU.
Choosing a major is a unique experience for everyone. For a lucky few, it is barely a choice at all. There are those who have wanted to be doctors or teachers or business managers since they were young, and who understand what academic roadways they want to travel to get there. However, for many people, (including myself) the journey is rarely straightforward.
I entered Northeastern as an Undeclared student, and although I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, I knew that I was fascinated by Biology and English. For a while my thought process alternated between trying to figure out which one I wanted to focus on and trying to figure out if it was possible to double major in Biology and English. I soon found out that the latter wasn’t feasible without overloading classes for at least one semester or by taking classes for more than eight semesters, neither of which appealed to me. Despite this realization, I still felt no closer to making a decision. This brings me to my first bit of advice-never underestimate the value of figuring out what it is you don’t want to do. Sometimes a decision doesn’t come in a flash of inspiration or from a deep inner knowledge of what it is you want. Sometimes it’s as simple as exploring around and figuring out the things you don’t want to do, until you hit on something that ignites your enthusiasm.
My first breakthrough came when I was attending an Undeclared event, and I had the opportunity to talk to the head of the English Department. I mentioned how I’d been struggling to decide whether I wanted to study Biology or English. She replied, “Why not do a combined major with the two?” “I can do that?” I asked. “I don’t see why not” she said. I would later learn that a combined major was different from a double major in some important ways. A double major is two degrees, and involves completing all of the courses for each one. A combined major is one degree, and some of the courses from each discipline are removed to make a more compact curriculum. It also includes an interdisciplinary “bridge” course, making it easier for the student to understand how their two fields of study connect and interact. This brings me to my second piece of advice-don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone at the university about what it is you’re interested in or looking for. They are likely to be much more familiar with the resources and opportunities that are available than you are. You may end up learning about possibilities that you didn’t even know existed!
This five minute exchange started me on an almost two year journey to pursue the education that I was passionate about. Although the combined major I wanted did not yet exist, I knew there was a process in place for creating it. This process included countless meetings, paperwork, curriculum revisions, and several roadblocks. This brings me to my third piece of advice. When you find what it is you’re looking for, pursue it with persistence, patience, and passion. The idea that I was so excited about-a new major combining English and Biology-often came across to others as strange and sometimes even nonsensical. However, I knew it was what I wanted. I stood my ground even when I could sense disapproval from others. I may have been met with skepticism at first, but I wasn’t met with a “no” or “we simply can’t do that”. So I kept pushing forward. The journey was long and sometimes discouraging, but it was worth it because I had found my passion.
Your own journey to declaring a major might be more conventional than mine, or perhaps even less so. No matter what the case, it is important to keep in mind one overall truth-there is no one “right way” to land yourself a certain future. In talking with professors and with other adults in the working world, I have learned that there are multiple paths that lead to the same destination. The important thing is to do something that you get excited about, and to do it well.
Sarah is a third year student at Northeastern University pursuing a Combined Degree in Biology and English. She has completed one co-op at the Boston Center for Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. She traveled to Italy in the summer of 2013 for a Dialogue of Civilizations, and is looking forward to traveling again during an ASB trip to the Dominican Republic this March. Contact Sarah for more information about her combined major or her experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Source: Carol Simpson Cartoon Work and Illustration; I want to graduate with a dual major…fiction writing and corporate accounting.