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?]