Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 4

College visiting is a joyous thing!

Okay, lies. It’s intense. It can be really cool and exciting. It also raises a bunch of really scary questions. Last week, I talked with 8 professors at 3 universities in the space of less than 24 hours, and I noticed that they all seemed to be preemptively prepared to answer two questions in particular: whether they could help me get admitted and what I should major in. Obviously, these are pretty important questions for most students, and I’m not going to deny that they hang out in my brain (the former is currently overstaying its welcome up there), but I actually went to these professors with the intent of talking to them about their subjects and getting a feel for the schools, so it was a little unsettling. Most of them bypassed the admissions topic pretty frankly, which was nice, but their approaches to the question of majors were far more varied. I will tell you a reason this is interesting: save for one, all of the professors I talked to teach something that has to do with Middle Eastern Studies and/or Arabic. And all of them had a different take on how to decide what to study.

Here’s a thing you should know about me: the things I want to study at university are really specific, but are encompassed by a fairly broad range of subject areas (namely, humanities). I know I like certain types of history (mainly cultural and social history, art history and history of ideas being particular favorites; one of my deepest driving desires is to understand the ways in which peoples respond to oppression). I know I like Arabic (from a mainly linguistic but also cultural perspective). I’d like to understand religion and philosophy better (for sort of self-serving reasons, but also because I want to understand the role of religion and culture in forming expectations of gender). I also really love thinking about pop culture and weird trivial things like the origins of superstitions.

So I told (or tried to tell) most of that to each of the people I talked to in response to their probing (“Tell me about what you’re into” etc.) and I got responses ranging from “Don’t worry about what to study! Study everything! You’ll be an undergrad! That’s what undergrads do!” to “You should focus on a particular geographic region *coughcoughtheMiddleEastandNorthAfrica* so you have the freedom to move between disciplines,” to “Definitely acquire a base in a specific field, and extend to other areas from there,” to “Just study abroad!” The range was a little overwhelming (and hilarious contradictions were plentiful), but to me, that just reinforced my perception that I should address this question much later, when I actually have pertinent experience with courses in these areas. Which is fine by me, since I want to avoid deciding on a major for as long as possible.

Best conversation had on that trip?

Prof. X: So what are you interested in?

Me: I want to know how people come up with superstitions and myths. Also, I find cemeteries, ghost stories, and vampire movies totally fascinating.

Prof. X: That’s cool! People are obsessed with death; it’s the ultimate limit. You could study people’s responses to death indefinitely.

Me: [Internal monologue: OMG YAY CAN I BE YOU?]

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6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Education Tuesday: Episode 4

  1. Okay – so – truth – did your dad tell you to end with the death comment? Did you know that I hold the somewhat odd distinction of being the only person (up to that time) to take oral qualifying exams for my PhD in the sociology of death at H? (I know – it does sound cool ). So, here’s what I think from someone looking at education from the outside in. Study everything that you want to study; never pass up the opportunity to work with a professor that shows reals interest in your work and that you think has something to offer (and that’s pretty broad – maybe you don’t know about the intellectual rigor (s)he brings to the table, but (s)he’s a terrific teacher – there’s a lot to learn there) and advanced study (if that’s the route you go) will happen. College is like a box of really good chocolates – take a bite of them all and put back what you don’t like.

    • Oh, that was not contrived at all! I completely mean it. You’ve gained about a million cool-people points in my view; we can’t _not_ talk about this this coming weekend (so excited, by the way). Your philosophy on education seems incredibly fitting, and it’s great to hear some of my thoughts legitimized by you 😀

  2. Interesting discussion. And I also loved the way you ended this post. The death comment was intriguing and the professor’s reaction to everything was certainly unique. Needless to say, I loved how you ended it. It also managed to tie everything in really well.

    The rather vague responses are true though. Asking college admission officers or anybody college-related about your future (when you’re only a high school student) always leads to rather ambiguous, unhelpful answers. But I guess that is how life is. You can’t really get the answers to everything and you end up just grasping thin air and trying to figure everything out as you go along. And we’re young. So, I guess we don’t need to start thinking too ahead in the future? Plus, when I think about the future, I get scared. I’d rather much take things as I go along with some planning and forward-thinking.

    Thanks for the great post again! I always enjoy reading what you write!

    • I think there’s a threshold beyond which there isn’t a point in trying to ‘figure it all out,’ which is probably part of the reason counselors are so unhelpful about this. It’s also worth considering, though, that you can be forward-thinking just by pursuing current interests (it doesn’t involve any logistical planning or certainty, sure, but it still provides a bit of useful direction). Thanks for being such a dedicated reader; your comments make me smile (well, you in general do that, too…)!

  3. Guess what Splashium!!! I caught up!!!!! Exciting I know. Can I just say that you are amazing (and that I will go back and comment on your older posts asap ;P) .

    I would say that you should not worry about what to major in at this point because you have a long time to make a decision about this. Also, the cool thing about college is that you can take lots of classes in things that interest you, even if they do not fall under the “major” that you end up doing. This is what I am going to do, teheheh!!

    For people like you who have a plethora (hehe) of interests, people are always going to be able to come up with a variety of different and even contradictory solutions, as you found. There is, unfortunately, a wide variety of answers because you have such a wide variety of interests. You can take the suggestions they gave you and add them to your already existing ideas and from there try to make a decision. It will be hard, and you will probably have to give some things up, but in the end you will get a lot from it and it will be amazing, because you, the common denominator in all of the solutions, are AMAZING!!

    • Youuuu are amazing, lovely Toasty. Glad to hear you’ve gotten caught up (and I’m just about to make that harder for you with a hailstorm of random content, yay). I’m looking forward to the freedom of study at college SO MUCH. Also, I like that your solution to uncertainty involves being amazing (you’re so sweet :3), ’cause that’s always fun. Thanks for reading! ❤

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