The long, yellow brick road to finding the right major at Hopkins

By KATHERINE LOGAN | August 30, 2018

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JEANNE LEE / The News-Letter

Among the go-to questions that you’re bound to be asked, not only as a freshman but throughout your years at Hopkins, are the ever-daunting “What’s your major?” or “What are you interested in?”

I think part of what makes the opportunity to define yourself a simultaneously exciting and overwhelming prospect is that you have a clean slate. Free from any high school cliques or reputations that once clung to you, here you can choose to be exactly the same — or someone completely new. 

Of course, as Superman taught us, with great power comes great responsibility, and the pressure to make the most of your time at Hopkins and to start knocking out credits for a specific major, gearing up for that long-term life plan, can be intense.

I’m here to tell you to close your eyes, take a deep breath and recognize that (as cliché as it may sound) you don’t need to have the entire road mapped out in front of you. In fact, if my experience is any indication, it just might be more fun if you don’t. 

I came into Hopkins with a passion for writing, as well as a budding interest in psychology. Throughout my freshman year, I took courses in both the Writing Seminars and Psychological & Brain Sciences departments.

Then, in the fall of my sophomore year, I tried taking the first statistics course I would need in order to pursue a psychology major. As predicted, the results were not pretty.

I dropped the course and, along with it, my desire to major in psychology. Besides, I had already been questioning whether I really wanted to deal with other people’s stresses and traumas on a daily basis anyways. Had you asked me my freshman year, I would have told you that nothing could detract me from double-majoring in Psychology.

Yet, still, from where I stand halfway through my time at this academic institution, Intro to Forensic Psychology with Professor Raifman is one of the best classes I’ve had the opportunity to take. I do not regret the time I invested in studying psychology at all; it widened my perspective and made me a more interesting, well-rounded person and writer. 

Sometimes the best classes you take have nothing directly to do with your major. They’re whimsical and fun and interesting, and your genuine desire to be there engaging with the material drives you in a unique, refreshing way.

It’s more than okay if this doesn’t happen, but who knows, you might find a new major or minor that you want to pursue this way or meet a faculty member willing to mentor you, whose insights and support you would’ve missed out on if you didn’t take a risk. 

For instance, it was only after taking classes in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality department that I fully realized my passion for studying gender equity and decided to minor in the subject. Similarly it was only through taking a Freshman Seminar — I highly recommend you take at least one your first year here — whose title caught my eye that I took a course with Professor Refini. Cut to my junior year, he continues to serve as a great resource and is currently advising me on my thesis on fairy tales and feminism for the Honors Program in the Humanities. 

From the start of your career here to your last days on campus, whether you’re feeling completely overwhelmed or simply need a subtle push in the right direction, your academic and faculty advisors are here for you.

I promise you that even if you initially feel intimidated going to them, solidifying a relationship with them is worth it. I know it may be easier said than done, but you should never feel like you are “bothering them.” It is their job to help you, and chances are that they will be genuinely happy to do so. 

Without my academic advisor, I would have missed out on a variety of key opportunities (from research to invaluable internships) that have been some of the highlights of my time as a student here. 

Don’t fret if you don’t see a perfect yellow brick road laid out in front of you with a degree and the career of your dreams at its end. 

Like Dorothy and her friends, use your intellect, follow your heart and muster your courage. Know that you were chosen to be at this intense but wonderful place for a reason, and if I could find my way, you can too.

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