If this semester has taught me anything, it’s that I’m afraid of commitment.
Not all kinds of commitment, to be sure. A weekend devoted to a House of Cards marathon? No problem. Hours upon hours spent planning a party? Anytime. But ask me to choose what I want to study for the next five semesters and to pick the requisite courses and I’m reduced to a state of panicked denial, losing precious sleep to wave after wave of existential turmoil.
I predicted this dilemma before even coming to college, although I completely misdiagnosed its cause. Just over two years ago, I was agonizing over my application, trying in vain to decide what to indicate as my intended concentration when faced with so many equally alluring possibilities. I was “undecided” almost until the day I submitted the application, and although I eventually settled on computer science as a placeholder I continued to worry about the day I’d have to actually choose.
The worrying, naturally, has only intensified since. As the deadline for declaring concentrations loomed, my uncertainty grew, and by the time email reminders were being sent out about plans of study I no longer had any inkling what I wanted to do with my life, let alone my time at Harvard.
But an overwhelming number of wonderful choices was no longer the problem. Somehow every single concentration had lost its appeal. The notion that boxing myself into one could slam shut all other doors of opportunity was beginning to sink in.
That one’s major or concentration—and, ultimately, degree—is insignificant in the long run has nearly always been the response to my oft-voiced reluctance to choose, despite the nontrivial evidence to the contrary. Your future may not be tied down to your chosen field of study, but it is shaped by it; regardless of its financial implications, specializing in a certain area inherently limits career options down the line.
Employment prospects aside, it’s impossible to ignore the more immediate effects of declaring a concentration. Certain tracks are considered “easier” or “more difficult”—perhaps unfairly so, but to an impressionable sophomore attempting to juggle assorted extracurricular commitments, these perceptions aren’t to be taken lightly. Even without these admittedly imprecise appraisals (what does “easier” even mean?), there are considerations to be made—whether I prefer problem sets to essays, for instance, or a smaller department to a larger one.
It definitely could be worse. Elsewhere students are required to select a major or program of study much earlier, beginning before they apply to college and sometimes even before they enter high school. But at the tender age of 19—and as someone who can barely plan my next weekend, let alone my life—I feel woefully unprepared to make decisions of this magnitude. Melodramatic (and inaccurate) though it may be, from the outside declaring a concentration looks like an attempt to force all one’s passions and curiosity into a department-sized mold—and while that might be perfect for some, it’s less than ideal for nearly anyone with a broad array of interests.
In a perfect world, I could put off the inevitable indefinitely and continue to take the classes with the highest Q scores, regardless of department. But adulthood and responsibility (and, more insistently, the FAS Registrar) compelled me to choose—between narrowing my opportunities in life and writing a check, the former seemed like the lesser of two evils.
There are times when it feels like my chronic inability to decide must be some kind of inherent character flaw. Finding one’s passion is supposed to happen organically: If there’s nothing at all to which I feel drawn, will I ever discover what I’m truly interested in—or am I doomed to a life of aimlessness and endless oscillation?
And maybe it is just me (though recent late-night conversations with friends and roommates wrestling with the same decision suggest otherwise). It’s possible, even likely, that I’m completely over thinking the entire process and stressing for no reason—that in the end, it won’t matter nearly as much as it seems. But if that is the case, at least I’m not alone—a staggering number of students nationwide change their major at least once.
I’ll no doubt continue to worry I’ve chosen poorly until the bitter end, but I’m gradually coming to terms with the idea that specialization doesn’t have to mean shoehorning oneself into a single path. Deciding what to study for five semesters isn’t signing away your soul, but it does require both forethought and focus—so for now, as I try to wrap my head around the plan of study tool, the best I can do is concentrate.
Christina M. Teodorescu ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Eliot House.