At the recent admitted students’ event on campus, I spoke to a student who was curious about my choice to major in both history and Africana studies. He explained to me that he has always considered himself relatively proficient across all subjects in high school, and that, while he is excited by the opportunity to choose a major, he feels overwhelmed and afraid he may make the wrong choice.
To answer his question, I described my personal experience in declaring a major and reassured him that there are infinite pathways to figure out one’s academic interests — none of which are either right or wrong.
When I got to Cornell, I planned to major in Africana studies because the Africana Research Center was of great interest to me when applying as a transfer. I was excited by the prospect of joining an academic community in which the faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students all work towards advancing an innovative discipline. After participating in exchange programs to Tanzania and Uganda in high school, I developed sustained interest in investigating the methods used to generate knowledge about Africa by Americans and Europeans. I wanted to find somewhere where I could both study African history, but also learn about methodology and explore different approaches to the discipline.
After realizing I was fascinated by revolution and colonialism as fields of inquiry, I decided to take more general history courses and wound up declaring majors in both history and Africana studies. In the humanities, many students enjoy a similar experience to mine, as a general interest in a language, region or time period as a freshman could lead a student to major in a number of different disciplines depending on how their interest develops.
As is evidence through my academic journey, I was always bent on choosing a major in the humanities, but like the student I spoke to last week, many students struggle to decide between disciplines rooted in reading and writing or disciplines rooted in math and science.
Luckily, the Arts & Sciences distribution requirements require exploration of all disciplines. Some of my favorite courses have included "Oceanography" and "Math & Politics," and I know many Arts & Sciences students who enjoy double majors such as government and biology or French and math. By the time a student must declare a major, they will have had the academic experience necessary to make the best decision for them!