The Long Way: How I Chose My College Majors

Go on a four-year college journey with one student as she examines the classes she took and reasons behind choosing a major.

English and Spanish were favorites from the very beginning. Those were the classes that made me think the most, the first classes that I excelled at and pushed myself to take at higher levels. Those were the interests that I listed over and over on my college forms. The teachers I went to for advice and became friendly with were often from those departments (yes, I am an unabashed nerd). But despite all these things, I didn’t go into college with either English nor Spanish as a declared major. Instead I went in as undecided, which may seem strange given my obvious interest in two specific subjects.

Here’s the thing: I went to a wonderful high school that offered a lot of diversity in classes. However, going into a college like Wellesley, with even more diversity and amazing professors, opened so many intellectual doors for me. Part of me was just excited at the chance to explore and take courses like philosophy that weren’t offered at my high school. I had also heard stories of students who totally change their major after taking one amazing class in college. College brings a huge wave of new experiences, and I was nervous about sticking with the same things I had always done and loved. What if I just hadn’t discovered my true passion yet?

Freshman year exploration—or not

I entered college as undecided and spent the first few semesters exploring. Okay, admittedly, I didn’t explore much the first semester . . . I took a seminar in English (with a professor I later learned was a famous modern poet), a class in Spanish, and a class in music, which had always been a hobby. I also met one of my closest college friends in my music class, which goes to show that the benefits of taking some classes aren’t just academic.

I did actually branch out a little in choosing an Italian language course, and it stuck with me. So much so that it crept into my major deliberations right alongside Spanish and English. But more on that in a minute.

In my second semester I tiptoed into the sciences with an environmental science class that discussed climate change in depth. (I had also enjoyed an environmental science class in high school.) It was my first class that was really focused on one issue instead of being a general overview. While it helped me get comfortable with big, scary college-level science classes, it also made me realize that my enduring passion was not going to be environmental science.

I also took a class called “Moral Philosophy,” because I love asking questions about honor and morality and never had the opportunity to take a philosophy class. I have always been attracted to big ideas in literature, and I wondered if my true passion was philosophy. Well, it turned out that unadulterated philosophy wasn’t really for me. I felt that I couldn’t make my voice heard at all among the voices of all the major philosophers. I need my doses of philosophy wrapped in pretty literature. I still think about philosophy, but after that class it was no longer part of the debate for a major.

Double majors, languages, and studying abroad

I started my second year with the looming knowledge that I had to declare a major by the end of the first semester to study abroad, something I knew I wanted to do. At this point in the majors race, English and Spanish still seemed like my primary competitors. Philosophy was out, and taking a more advanced music theory course with a notoriously tough professor solidified the fact that music was better as a hobby for me.

When faced with choosing a major, I was anxious about having to pick something “practical.” Because I saw college as a chance to explore and grow academically, I didn’t see the point of forcing myself to major in a traditionally “well paying” or “real-world” major, like computer science or economics, if I had no interest in those areas. I knew I loved English and Spanish, but I was nervous that they were not practical enough.

I finally zeroed in on the idea of a double major, which freed me to have at least one of my majors in a foreign language. But then had to decide: did I want to study Spanish or Italian? I studied Spanish for 12 years before college, and as a result I was able to take Spanish literature courses at Wellesley instead of studying the language itself. Italian was something entirely new and different, challenging and interesting. I also knew that studying Italian would open the doors to learn about an entirely new culture. As far as study abroad goes, Wellesley offers stellar programs in both Spanish and Italian. What finally decided it for me was the fact that I really loved being able to dive into Spanish culture courses like a native speaker; I could study actual short stories or even cartography in Spanish. I also found it more practical than Italian, because of the larger Spanish-speaking population both in the United States and around the world. I declared Spanish as my first major, confident that doing so would also enable me to study abroad.

The final hurdle

Although I loved all the English professors and classes that I had taken so far, I was still nervous about the practicality of an English major. I had an older cousin who studied English in college and then went back to school to study business. However, when I talked to my cousin and her husband, who had also majored in English, they didn’t dissuade me from studying it. They advised me to have a solid plan for what I wanted to do with English. My plan revolved around journalism, a more “practical” form of writing I really enjoyed.

Back in high school, I wrote for and eventually led our newspaper, and I joined the campus newspaper in college. I was drawn to the process and challenge of interviewing and writing, even though it meant starting at the bottom of the totem pole again. Journalism seemed a reasonable way to use English in the future. However, as wonderful as it is, Wellesley does not offer a journalism program or major, so I compromised with my love of English literature by taking an English major and devoting as much time to journalism through the campus newspaper as possible.

My final hurdle to declaring an English major seems silly in retrospect, but at the time I spent hours agonizing over it. It was just trying to make sure I would meet all of Wellesley’s double major requirements. It took a lot of thinking and talking with various deans and a trusted English professor (who would eventually become my major advisor). But I finally decided to declare a second major in English. And in a slightly humorous (and perhaps telling) moment, I discovered I had already fulfilled over half of the English major requirements by the time I actually declared it.

So I ended up studying the two subjects I was initially drawn to, but only after a long, circuitous decision process. Although it was a bit stressful at times, I’m glad I took the time to explore potential new interests and continue studying what I am most passionate about.

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About Grace Ballenger

Grace Ballenger

Grace Ballenger is a student contributor who is currently studying for a B.A. in English and Spanish at Wellesley College. When not studying in her favorite tree on campus, Grace enjoys contributing to her school newspaper, and singing in the choir. Her hobbies include playing piano, reading, baking, and drawing.


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