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Cannot Concentrate

By Hannah M. Borowsky

To: Confused Sophomore

From: Still Confused Junior

This Wednesday is the date for Harvard sophomores to declare their concentrations once and for all. Will it be computer science or classics? Slavic languages or economics? Or maybe one of five different options in biology? It’s time, my sophomore friends, to concentrate.

When I noticed that this milestone for the Class of 2016 was approaching, I couldn’t help but reflect on the meaning of this decision. At this time one year ago, I was walking out of yet another meeting with yet another concentration advisor—this was the 10th department I had checked out. And no, I still hadn’t the faintest idea what I was going to declare.

With great volatility, as the November deadline neared, I oscillated. One week I’d tell everyone I knew that I was going to be history of science. The next week I had to explain that when I’d said history of science, I’d actually meant sociology. I mean, neurobiology. Nope, social studies. Did I say that? You must have heard wrong. I’m going to be environmental science and public policy. The exclamation points in my mom’s texts dwindled—“COOL!!!!!!!!” became “cool!!!” which faded to “cool.” and then, “…are you serious?”

I could not concentrate.

In the end, I did choose. I thought about not choosing, but writing a fifty-dollar check to the Registrar’s Office sounded worse than declaring the wrong concentration. I wish I could say that after I chose, I realized that the decision was not so prodigious, my future was not being fated, and that I never thought about it again. That would be a lie, though. It turns out that changing concentrations is not so difficult, which sounds like a good thing, but if you’re like me, really it’s not. It means you can keep thinking about it. Meeting with concentration advisors. Oscillating.

In the months following my much discussed concentration decision and even today, every time that I feel myself becoming excited about a topic or class outside of my declared field of study, my stomach turns. “Focus,” I tell myself… “Concentrate!” I decide that the new passions I feel are insincere, or else I must have chosen wrong.

We are told though, that we cannot choose wrong. We can concentrate in anything and still do anything. In fact, we can’t possibly decide what to do with our lives, for we do not know what the world will be like in two weeks, let alone in 30 years. Some of the most desired jobs—such as working for titans like Facebook and Google—did not exist even a decade ago, which means our education is preparing us to do things we’ve never heard of. But still, ever-changing interests do not make an ever-changing world more navigable. It makes it confusing. Hard to concentrate.

I am literally the last person qualified to be giving advice on choosing a concentration. I have not finished oscillating. My mom’s responses to the texts that come every few months proclaiming the new concentration that I swear I’m going to switch to has evolved to a simple “?” or else she forgets to respond.

If I, a still confused junior, have any advice at all to offer to my sophomore peers, it is this: Embrace changing interests and new passions, but do not fear concentration. In making a choice this Wednesday, Harvard does not task you with consolidating your life’s passion and your entire essence into a department. No one makes you pledge to stop adventuring or experimenting, wandering or wondering. One of the greatest things about being here in college is that we have so many other outlets to explore and express our interests, be it through theater, music, activism, community service, athletics, research, travel, or just strange and interesting conversations with the people around us.

What I have learned from my multi-year struggle to decisively remain loyal to one field of study is that our concentrations need not capture every facet of our interests. If what you decide to submit to the Registrar on Wednesday reflects even one part of your interests, you’ve done right. But you cannot let that discourage you from finding and embracing other interests. You can still be an astronaut and a cowgirl and a mad scientist and the president. We shouldn’t fear concentration because we don’t have to concentrate.

Hannah M. Borowsky ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an organismic and evolutionary biology concentrator in Leverett House.

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