Sonnenberg: Declare Before It’s Too Late

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Sonnenberg: Declare Before It’s Too Late

The Block U, an alternative to the drum and feather logo at the U. | Chronicle archive.

The Block U, an alternative to the drum and feather logo at the U. | Chronicle archive.

Adam Fondren

The Block U, an alternative to the drum and feather logo at the U. | Chronicle archive.

Adam Fondren

Adam Fondren

The Block U, an alternative to the drum and feather logo at the U. | Chronicle archive.

By Kristiane Sonnenberg

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For those of us who are far along in our majors, registration is a relatively simple process of identifying which gen-ed and major-specific courses we need to graduate, figuring out which classes we must take in a particular order and balancing our schedules. The process is much more complicated for undeclared students who often do not know how their classes will fit into whatever major they will eventually choose.

As someone who has switched majors four or five times (I’ve lost track), I understand the difficulty of finding the path that is right for you. My personal experiences have also taught me that waiting to commit to a major can make your life difficult as your graduation date approaches. So as fall registration draws near, I’d like to offer a piece of advice to all students — and especially freshmen — who think that they have plenty of time to figure out what they want to study. Commit before it’s too late.

I use such dire language because the consequences of waiting to declare a major can be difficult to deal with. I started as a peace and conflict studies (PCS) major as a freshman and took a couple of major-specific courses during my first semester. Then I switched to political science and took more major-specific courses. After that, I switched to English teaching and took education-specific courses. When I switched to English (my current major), my PCS, political science and education courses served no use other than to fulfill the graduation requirement of having a certain number of upper-division courses. I eventually added Spanish as another major and philosophy and religious studies as minors. I got halfway through the required Spanish coursework before realizing that I wouldn’t have time to finish the major (or even a minor) if I kept my other two minors. Philosophy and religious studies were more important to me, so I dropped Spanish, which rendered another semester’s worth of credits useless — if only as far as graduating was concerned.

If all of that sounds complicated and confusing, it’s because it is. I could barely keep track of whether I was fulfilling my graduation requirements, which caused other important gen-ed classes to fall through the cracks. In the process, I committed to a lot of extra work that ultimately did not count towards any of my current majors, minors or general graduation requirements.

Some exploration can be good. I benefited from learning that I did not want to work in politics or education and I discovered through my gen-eds that the humanities are my passion. Academic exploration in college is necessary, but it is best when done realistically and in moderation. If you wait too long to figure out what you want to study, you will severely limit yourself and your opportunities to delve into your final realm of study.

For example, my circuitous path caused me a lot of headaches leading up to graduation. It required squeezing both a basic science course and three 5000-level English and philosophy courses into my final semester, essentially setting myself up for my most difficult semester exactly as senioritis hit the hardest. There were many more religious studies courses that I wanted to take, but there was not enough time for them because I took so many unnecessary major-specific courses at the beginning of my college education.

I am lucky enough to be able to graduate in four years because as far as majors go, humanities degrees are comparatively short. According to the department of English, only 36 major hours are required to earn an English B.A. In comparison, the computer science B.S. in the Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) program requires at least 116 major credit hours and the chemistry major requires 79 to 83 major credit hours. Besides taking much longer than my majors, these majors (and many other STEM programs) have prerequisites that determine in what order courses have to be taken, which can add on even more time until degree completion. If I had switched into physics after my sophomore year (the last time I switched my major), it would have taken more than four years for me to graduate.

Exploring your interests is an integral part of the college experience, but remaining uncommitted for too long can make graduating on time difficult and limit your ability to take the courses you love once you have declared your major. If you are a freshman, use your first two semesters to knock out some gen-eds and figure out what you’re interested in. If you know you want to go into a STEM field, by all means, start getting those prerequisites out of the way.

If you are 100% certain what major you want to pursue, then jump in and start taking major-specific courses. My advice is simple: figure out what you want to study as early as possible, then declare. Don’t waver between different majors as I did. I wish you the best of luck on discerning your interests and happy registration.

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