Choosing a Major at a Liberal Arts School
A liberal arts school is unique in that it allows students to branch out beyond their major. Instead of fulfilling numerous requirements, the emphasis is on developing skills and learning how to absorb and understand material. Since a liberal arts education makes it possible for a broad range of exploration as well as rigorous requirements of academic training, it is crucial to expose yourself to as many disciplines as possible. I would not be a CSS major without the opportunities the liberal arts education afforded me.
I came into college thinking I would major in math and psychology. However, in the spirit of exploring different subjects, I did not load on required courses for my intended major. Instead, I chose to enroll in anthropology and government classes. These course syllabi were both designed with heavy reading loads. The anthropology class involved intense discussion and critical assessment of the readings, while the government course emphasized the interpretation of a nation’s political system using theories learned in class. Various opinions that came up in the class discussion contradictory to cultural relativism helped me realize the limitation of modern intellectual perspectives: we are confined in the historically dominant capitalist views, despite the diverse patterns of economies in other marginal places. The government course trained my ability to apply theories to interpret phenomena; for example, I had a hard time adjusting myself to Marxist logic to explain government formation. In this process, I learned to put aside my pre-existing values before starting to understand a new set of thoughts.
Through these social science classes, I discovered my outlet for exercising critical thinking skills, so much so that I became interested in studying human societal functionality. I found the social sciences to be much more powerful in interpreting human society than psychology alone. Now I wanted to design a major for myself with diverse course lines that would expose me to contrasting views and alternative perspectives.
Eventually, my only choice became CSS: a combination of economics, history, government, and social theory to examine human society and its development. With this major, I believed I could form a holistic and comprehensive understanding of human civilization.
My first year experience set the foundation for my later academic years. Even the rigorous CSS major leaves room for a double major and outside exposure, which enables me to choose a second major: math. I also plan to take arts and literature classes in my junior and senior years. There is plenty of space to train yourself as an all-around educated person and build up your own pyramid of knowledge.
Because of this broad platform of reflection, one can balance passion and the practical consideration of a career. It is important to combine your passion with your major, but it is no less essential to take advantage of your strengths. For example, I do not excel at CSS, but I excel at math. Therefore, I chose math as a second major. Career and passion can be successfully separated, even after college. For instance, my friend working for the financial industry finds time to study ancient Chinese poetry and literature in her free time.
The liberal arts philosophy of diverse academic exposure is to cultivate wisdom so a student can approach problems with flexible methods. This important skill is developed in the classroom, and will continue to be useful in the workforce. A friend who majored in East Asian studies was able to enter the business industry without a business major, because he proved his cross-cultural communication, persuasion, and observation skills. Your major does not always have to contribute to your career in a direct sense. Rather, the concept, the value, and the interpersonal interaction you establish in this process end up mattering the most in your career.
Therefore, a liberal arts education, at Wesleyan or elsewhere, is not a time for self-imposed career pressure. Rather, it allows and encourages you to develop a variety of strengths and interests, preparing you to be an impressive force in job market. Take advantage of this system. Don’t get caught up in your major or what you think your major should be; explore a variety of classes and subject matters. The outcome might surprise you.