Why I Declared 2019: Social Sciences

By Lydia L. Cawley

Concentration declaration is a rite of passage at Harvard. Some students know what they want to concentrate in from the moment they step foot on campus, and others are still wavering at 11:59 p.m. on declaration day. To get some perspective on concentration declaration, we asked Flyby sophomores studying the social sciences why they declared.

Economics: Ariana Chiu ’22

I’d be lying if I said I came out of the womb with a passion for drawing demand curves and maximizing utility. I knew coming into college, however, that I wanted to combine my interests in mathematics and the humanities, and I soon realized that economics was the sweet spot I was searching for. The courses I have taken over the past three semesters have revealed how omnipresent the principles of economics are, and I’m excited to explore more niche applications of economics in the coming years.

Nothing like an expensive intro textbook to get you fired up about a field.
Nothing like an expensive intro textbook to get you fired up about a field. By Megan M. Ross

Economics is truly everywhere, and though I may not know exactly what career(s) I want to pursue in the future, the concentration provides me with a great degree of flexibility and freedom to discover just that. Courses in economics will enable me to develop invaluable skills, ranging from critical thinking to data analysis, and equip me with the tools to better engage with and propose solutions to global social, political, and economic issues.

I am also interested in human decision-making and the ways in which our decisions interact on a broader scale. So sure, concentrating in Ec is basically asking to be labelled either a snake or a sellout, but if you ask me, the benefits undoubtedly outweigh the costs in the end.

Social Studies: Rachel L. Reynolds ’22

First, a disclaimer: Concentration Declaration Day is coming up, and I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be concentrating in. I’ve known since the beginning that I’ve wanted to concentrate in a social sciences field, but so far I’ve considered nearly everything: Government, History, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and (of course) Social Studies. This indecision is one reason that I’m leaning heavily towards Social Studies with a secondary in Psychology, since it involves nearly all of these fields I’ve considered.

Ah, a nice bookshelf full of Social Studies books.
Ah, a nice bookshelf full of Social Studies books. By Rachel L. Reynolds

However, this indecision isn’t my only reasoning. While Social Studies is a good possibility for anyone wanting to get a little sample of everything, it has many of its own merits that I appreciate so much. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of this concentration is that you can study a little bit about everything, versus a lot about one thing in other concentrations. While this has its pros and cons, I really like the idea of being able to pick a topic that I’m passionate about and explore it using a bunch of different disciplines. And while writing a thesis seems daunting, I am comforted by how the department encourages concentrators to start thinking of their focus fields from the very beginning (though there’s no pressure to stick with these original plans).

While a lot of my plans are still up in the air, I’m so excited to be taking this next step and actually declaring a concentration in Social Studies!

Psychology: Allison S. Barker '22

In high school, I found myself immersed in both the scientific and artistic communities, although I rarely felt as though either were completely right fits for me. For this reason, I suspected that I might find myself studying the social sciences when I came to college. Much to the chagrin of my mother and various Uber drivers who have helpfully warned me that I could be studying things that would make me employable, I have found myself drawn toward Psychology. The concentration is far from an unusual choice for the undergraduate body, and the sheer size of the department initially discouraged me from wanting to join the ranks of its loyal student body.

William James Hall: home away from home for Psychology concentrators.
William James Hall: home away from home for Psychology concentrators. By Helen Y. Wu

My attitude shifted solidly, however, over the course of my first semester at Harvard, when I took SLS20: “Psychological Science” (now PSY1: “Introduction to Psychological Science”) and ended up in a Psychology of Religion seminar. Both were highlights of my semester. Throughout my (almost) three semesters at Harvard, Psychology has been the only field of classes that I have consistently enjoyed taking. I always looked forward to finishing readings in my SLS20 textbook and am always intrigued by the papers that I have to pour through for my Psychology tutorial.

I joined Professor Daniel Gilbert’s social psychology lab during my second semester of freshman year, and that experience has been similarly positive. The staff members and graduate students of the Harvard Psychology department are some of the most welcoming and helpful humans that I have encountered at this school, and I have never felt anything short of fully supported and cared for as part of the community. I cannot wait to continue deepening my connection to the Psychology department (and the College at large) as I progress through college. Here’s to hoping I’ll still be able to get a job post-graduation!

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