Why You Don't Need Another Major
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Why You Don't Need Another Major

You only need one major.

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Why You Don't Need Another Major
Lizzie Bjork

The other day I had a major epiphany: I only need one major. Calling this an epiphany sounds absolutely absurd, I know. But I had been so preoccupied by the number of opportunities and the notion that because I am here at Rice, I should always do more simply because I was capable of doing more.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. Pressure to perform is nothing new, but pressure to do the maximum of everything simply for the sake of proving yourself capable – well, I had never encountered a phenomenon quite like this until I came to Rice. Honestly, I had a pretty well-balanced high school experience. I took AP classes and was involved in several different activities in and out of my high school, but I also got to bed by 11 most nights and spent a lot of time reading newspaper articles and hanging out with my family.

Yes, I sometimes felt overwhelmed, and I had a few mini-breakdowns. When my friends and I got together on weekends, we would often do homework together in cafes or around each other’s dining room tables. But I could handle it – I liked my school work, and I was generally a pretty happy kid.

Still though, I knew there was a lot of bullshit deeply ingrained into the system. I couldn’t wait to get to college, to meet people who were smart and interested in learning.

Only “smart” and “interested in learning” are not the qualifications for admission to Rice, nor for any other top school. No, we’re all here because we are good at school and because we emerged from the rat race of high school and college admissions with a time fast enough to qualify us for the big leagues of rat races: elite universities.

With more Americans than ever attending college and graduate school, it seems the bar is constantly being raised. With skyrocketing tuition costs and declining admissions percentages, there is a very real pressure to graduate with a competitive edge and a degree that will make you a lot of money. Competition is not a new phenomenon, and to a certain degree, it might even be unavoidable. But the pressure on elite universities and the students they hold has begun to distort the shape of education. Many times since arriving at Rice, I’ve been dispirited by the commoditization of knowledge. Increasingly, I’ve found myself convinced that education is not the primary goal of the American higher education system.

More than once, I’ve found myself halfway through an application for some type of program or leadership opportunity before realizing that I have no compelling answer for “Why do you want to do ______?”

I wouldn’t say I’m a resume grubber – at least not consciously. My friends generally describe me as well-balanced, strong willed, and not easily swayed by the current of popular opinion. I’m a strong swimmer, and the fact that I frequently find myself applying for things simply because they sound cool – well, I think that goes to prove the strength of these currents.

Part of it is a paradox of choice; I went to a small high school, where I could take advantage of most of the opportunities that came my way without being overwhelmed. Here at Rice, I hear of interesting opportunities for research or leadership (or any of those other resume building blocks) at least twice a day. I’ve spent virtually the entire school year trying to scale back the number of commitments I’m involved in, trying to find the ones that really count. And it’s not easy, partially because everything sounds so interesting.

But you know what also sounds interesting? Going to cafes, talking long walks while on the phone with friends from home, reading books, spending two hours at dinner, and having those quintessentially college experiences like rushing to Ben and Jerry’s for free ice cream or going laser tagging on a Thursday night or staying up way too late debating the meaning of life.

And it’s tough to balance this type of college experience with the one where most of us, including myself, are applying for opportunities where we struggle to answer questions about why we are interested.

Of course being smart and engaged in learning are not mutually exclusive to having a successful resume. I know many people who fall into both categories. And yet, the system that creates and selects elite college students and the paradigm under which we live our lives, well, I think those are mutually exclusive.

And now, I’m trying to make my own paradigm different from the system. I was talking to my mom on the phone yesterday, telling her about the service trip I plan to lead and how excited I am to be advising during orientation week. As always, she was enthusiastic and supportive, expressing her disbelief at my energy and involvement. Suddenly I found myself disbelieving as well, and I said to her in a moment of clarity, “No Mom, I need to chill the fuck out.”

And I do. And I will keep trying, and I know it won’t be easy. But I can be a single History major and take whatever other classes I want, and I can do as many or as few extracurricular opportunities as I want. Objectively, it is enough to graduate college with a BA and some sort of plan, even if the plan involves finding a plan. After all, I’ve got the rest of my life to figure out what to do with it.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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