Your Alternate Majors

This has come up before, but it is time once again on this bright, academic Monday to talk about college and graduate majors we thought about, but have decided against, so far. My general thought for today is that students need more serious advising than they get. By advising, I do not mean direction, nor do I mean marketing — I mean realistic and non condescending conversation.

I think of this now because I am writing letters of recommendation for a student who is applying to programs in three different fields, and it is disorienting. He has too many people giving him poor advice, and it is too much pressure, and he should actually take a year off, anyway. But I want to imitate his confusion for a moment, to think of alternative programs for all of us, as an exercise in personality analysis as much as in the selection of career paths.  Let us see.

1. It surprises people initially but my original choice of undergraduate major was Environmental Economics and Policy. This could have led in several directions but I was thinking of the PhD in Agricultural Economics, after which I would have joined an organization working on food policy. Why I did not do it: advised against as my work options would be too limited: government or industry, it was said. What I could have done: do it anyway.

If I had it to do over, I believe I would at least try it.  I still wax enthusiastic remembering those plans. Where I would have traveled, what I would have seen, who I would have met, what I might have done, when I would have become disillusioned, and over what.

2. Later I realized my ideal major was Economics itself. Why I did not do it: I was halfway toward a PhD in Comparative Literature and it seemed too late to go back. I was also enjoying myself. What I could have done: move to Latin American Studies.

If I had it to do over, I would might do that. It would depend on where, and it would depend on what I were told about job markets. There would be other options: joint MBA and JD, joint JD and PhD in LAS emphasizing Economics. It is hard to tell because I was enjoying my program then, and in the present exercise is based on thinking of the options I rejected at the time. And at the time only a move to Economics itself occurred to me, and it would have been impractical to say the least.

3. Still later I realized another ideal major was Near Eastern Studies. Why I did not do it: I had just become a professor in something else.  I told myself I was just trying to run back to the safety of school. What I could have done: do it.

If I had it to do over, I would most definitely try to do this. I can still taste the taste of desiring it, and I still remember how on Saturdays, coming out of the library, I would lean against the Near Eastern Studies building at the school where I wanted to apply. There was a smell of sand and dry leaves.


Journalism and law are the other things I am still interested in and those could have been graduate programs taken after the B.A. I actually took. Again, it wasn’t until after I had the Ph.D. that I matched myself to these possible paths. Still, do you see? My ideas were not always acceptable or feasible, but I did have them and they follow a pattern that is clear at least to me.

My official interests: literary theory, languages.
My secret interests: economics, policy, Arabic, Near Eastern Studies, journalism, law.

Really the lists are similar, written this way. But look at the differences when they are written like this:

My official interests: literature, Romance and Germanic languages, Latin America. [LEAFY]
My secret interests: economics, policy, Arabic, Near Eastern Studies, journalism, law. [ARID]

How about you?


One thought on “Your Alternate Majors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s