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Selecting a Major

We’re really looking forward to discussing this book! There are many topics we plan to address, but we thought we’d start with something that came up early in the book: the selection of a college major. On page 21, Eugenides wrote that Madeleine “[had] become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.” Just after that he writes,

… That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren’t left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical–because they weren’t musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they’d done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in.

As you might guess, that generated a lot of conversation between Molly and me and we thought you might have something to say on the topic, too. What did you major in? How did you make that choice? Or, now that you’ve graduated, what thoughts do you have about your major or the process you used to identify it?

We look forward to hearing from you! Add your comments here!

Category: Discussion, The Marriage Plot

11 Responses to Selecting a Major

  1. Millicent Flake ('81) says:

    I thought about majoring in English, because like Madeleline, I love to read, but instead went into Psychology because I thought it would be more “practical”. Almost 20 years later I became school media specialist and now do what I love – encourage young people to love reading! I don’t regret my psychology major, but I believe in following your heart.

    • Lauren Pressley says:

      It’s funny how several of us chose a more “practical” major only to end up doing the thing we loved. It’s good those practical majors were also rewarding!

  2. Hu Womack says:

    I strongly identified with Madeleine”s logic in becoming an English major. I came to Wake Forest with no ideas for a major. I fell into an Education major thinking I would teach K-12. Then took a Art111, the studio class, as a basic requirement and fell in love with sculpture and printmaking! When I decided to be an Art major, my parents negotiated with me to double major in English and Studio Art. I really did not put the thought into a major that students do now. I had no idea what career I would have and believed if I got a liberal arts degree, the career would sort itself out. (It was a luxury of the eighties that disappeared when I graduated in 1990 during a recession.) I really believed a good liberal arts degree would prepare me for anything. In my case it did, but it took several years after college to find that career! (And I did end up teaching, but as a librarian at WFU, not a K-12 teacher!)

    • Lauren says:

      I can really identify with this, Hu. I actually did feel I put a lot of thought into my major, but it was more about what I liked doing rather than what job I would get. Again–a luxury of the time. This was just before the dot com bubble burst.

  3. Roz Tedford says:

    I came to WFU thinking I’d be a History/French double major but then the summer after my freshman year I took an intro psychology class with Dr. Mark Leary and I was mesmerized. I jumped into Psych with both feet and even was in the Psych Honors program. But about halfway through my Junior year I started to feel a pull back to the Humanities so I added English as a double major. It was the perfect fit – right and left sides of my brain were finally both happy! I stayed a fifth year to finish and actually also had enough Political Science (it was just called Politics then) credits to get a third major but alas, it was not allowed. One of the great things about being a faculty brat was the encouragement (and the financial ok) to stay until I had taken all the classes I wanted.

  4. David Seth Walker, WFU 1962 says:

    First History class, September 1958, I fell under the hypnotic influence of Dr. David L Smiley. From that moment on, History became my academic life. Upon graduation from WFU I went to Law School, practiced law for 5 years, served as a Circuit Judge for 32 years. In 1998, I went back to the University of South Florida and obtained my Mastgers Degree in History and now I am an adjunct professor of American History at USF. Next to my wife and family, Dr. Smiley remains the most important person in my life.

  5. Pat says:

    I thought I wanted to become a broadcast journalist…loved the whole idea of creating and delivering stories as they were happening. I also loved writing. With those two loves, I decided to become a communications major with a minor in journalism. Later, I became fascinated with our judicial system and decided I’d make a better lawyer so I went to law school. Still later, after earning a law degree I decided having a family was paramount. Today, I’m not doing any of those things I thought I’d be doing. Isn’t that funny? Not really…that’s life.

    • Hu Womack says:

      Agreed! That is life! I would never have guessed that I would be a Librarian at Wake Forest! It is a perfect fit, but not at all what I expected as an undergraduate working in the art studio at midnight on a Saturday night! I thought I would be an artist in a SoHo loft, creating and writing about art!

  6. Roy Wright says:

    At the time I entered Wake Forest, I was thinking of preparing for law school. It seemed to me that a history major would provide me a path to that end. When history got too tough, I abandoned my plan and switched to Sociology and eliminated any thoughts of law school. I felt that Sociology was more general than history and required less memorization and hard work. I was also trying to balance my night job at Baptist Hospital as well as a social life ( read “women”) so I could devote only so much to historical trivia about the Magna Carta. My new focus was to establish a path to graduation and to think about the career path later on.

    I eventually graduated (on time) and pursued a Masters Degree and a career in hospital administration. I am now in my retirement years and I have found a great love for history, so I guess I am right back where I started from.

  7. lauren says:

    I knew before I went to college I wanted to major in philosophy, and even declared it. I was talked out of it for something more practical, so I ended up switching and majoring in communication. In my senior year I started thinking about what I might regret most about college and it was that I didn’t get that philosophy degree–so I tacked on an extra year to pick it up. Both were quite intentional, but for very different reasons. Little did I know that I’d end up with a job that directly used the philosophy degree and only indirectly used the communication one!

  8. Molly Keener says:

    As an English major, when I first read Eugenides’s description of English majors, I immediately identified with yet rebelled against his characterization of our tribe. I did–and do!–love reading, and believe in the power of stories to illuminate the complexities of human existence is ways that the straight facts of life (presuming they exist as such) are unable to do. Some of the best conversations/debates I’ve had have centered around books and story.

    However, I was in every sense one of those by-default majors: English proved a welcome refuge for a failed journalism major who had no career trajectory once she realized she couldn’t abide the cut-throatedness of her fellow journalism students. English was safe and comforting, and much of my early college life was fractious, so I simply fell into it without much thought for my future beyond the declaration deadline.

    Regretfully and frustratingly, it wasn’t until fall semester of my senior year that I discovered what should have been my major: geography! I randomly took a Latin American geography course to fulfill a diversity requirement and found an engaging, stimulating field I’d never known. I somewhat regret that I didn’t stay past my allotted four years and pick up at least a minor, if not a double major, but I was set to graduate “on time.” To compensate, I took two more geography courses my final semester, going against student conventional wisdom and making my last semester in college my most academically challenging–and most intellectually rewarding.

    Fortunately I did heed my first geography prof’s suggestion of pursuing a Master’s in library science. I’m not running a GIS lab as he suggested, but I do give him credit as one of a handful of affirmers in my life to encourage me to find my calling!

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