How do I find the major that's right for me?

Once you proclaimed yourself to be #JHUClassof2024, you undoubtedly received questions of “Oh, are you pre-med?” and “Which science are you majoring in?” While many of you may be coming to Hopkins with a STEM-oriented plan in mind — I was no exception — I want to remind you to keep your options open. There are many interesting choices on the course catalog, including East Asian Studies, Writing Seminars and Biophysics, that are worth exploring as well.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to dissuade all you future Blue Jays from majoring in a STEM field. That would be quite hypocritical of me. I, myself, applied to the University with the plan of majoring in Chemistry. 

But, drawing from my experiences and stories from fellow Hopkins students, I do have three main tips to help you navigate the many opportunities at Hopkins to craft a path uniquely for you.

Major Tip #1: Step out of your comfort zone and try new classes!

A cliché, yes, I know. But clichés exist because they are true. And while these kinds of expressions usually pertain to social groups and extracurriculars, they can be applied to academia as well. 

When I was choosing my classes for my first year at Hop, my objectives were focused on planning the most efficient schedule to complete my major requirements, but I also had a bit of leeway to choose additional electives purely for interest. For my freshman spring, I took Abnormal Psychology as an elective because I wanted to take a psych class and heard many positive reviews about it. It became the class that I looked forward to the most and led me to add Psychology as a minor. I encourage you to do the same. Take a class in Studio Art, or learn about Greek mythology and witches. Hopkins offers a plethora of classes that may just kindle a desire to pursue something new!

In the same way, do not let Major Tip #1 pressure you too much.

Sophomore Yasmin Aflaki, who is majoring in Medicine, Science and the Humanities, does encourage freshmen to leave space in their schedules but also acknowledges that students with more rigorous major requirements may not be able to do so. 

“If you want to take a course in a new area, you are absolutely free to do so,”Aflaki wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “If people don’t, it is an individual choice, and it’s understandable why people would be afraid to try new things because nobody wants to be left behind in credits needed to complete a major.”

There will always be students who enter college with a definite mindset of the major they want to pursue. If you are one of them, I applaud you! And if not, it’s okay! Always keep your options open, and don’t be afraid to enroll in classes just to feed your own curiosity and interest. 

Major Tip #2: Network and reach out to advisors and professionals.

When I say the next four years will fly by quick, I mean it. I’m now a sophomore, but it seems like only yesterday when I was attending my first pep rally at Homewood Field and having my first meetings with my Success Coach. Even though you will not be afforded the same luxuries now, we have to be thankful for the wonders of technology that enable us to remain connected with the University. 

Sophomore Evelyn Shiang, currently majoring in Psychology and Public Health with a Visual Arts minor, shared that she decided to drop pre-med and Neuroscience after virtually meeting with her Expos professor last spring. Her professor gave her the support and advice needed to motivate her to take on a different direction in her career. 

“Be open-minded and talk to a lot of people. If I didn’t have friends and professors who were interested in different things, then I wouldn’t be as motivated to figure out what was interesting to me,” Shiang advised. 

As a college student, no one expects you to have your whole life planned out. And the great thing about the University is that you will never have to figure things out on your own. There are an abundance of resources on campus (and virtually) that are specifically designed to guide undergraduates.

One of the best programs I joined was a new program from Academic Advising, which pairs each student with a Success Coach who remains with you all throughout college. Your Success Coach is meant to be a mentor to you, with whom you can discuss not just academics but even social or emotional issues. But their primary goal is to ensure your success, as their title is so aptly named. So, do not be afraid to reach out and seek these kinds of programs. I encourage you to look into  other resources as well, such as the Life Design Lab, Center for Student Success and the respective undergraduate advising office for your school.

Major Tip #3: Choose and explore for no one other than yourself.

The choices you make in life are always shaped by your interests and experiences, and choosing majors and minors is no different. While there are several factors to consider, including earning potential and employability, your primary objective should be to choose subjects that align with your interests and goals. 

Sophomore Jaxon Wu explored many different majors before settling on his current plan. He entered the University wanting to double major in International Studies and Economics. However, after trying some STEM courses and dabbling in public health, Wu is now double majoring in East Asian Studies and History of Science and Technology, with a possible minor in Applied Mathematics and Statistics. He was able to make this decision because he knew what he wanted to pursue.

“I realized that I was interested in public health partly because Hopkins is known for it,” Wu said. “While this isn’t a bad reason, I knew I wanted to develop more technical skills, such as coding or engineering, and more flexibility to choose classes, which is why I switched majors again.”

Wu encourages students to enter Hopkins as a blank slate and take the time as a freshman to explore classes. 

“You will have time to look around, even if you’re pre-med or not,” Wu said.

In my case, I knew I wanted to major in Chemistry after growing up listening to my grandfather talk about equations and molecules and taking AP Chemistry in high school. I recently tacked on an additional Public Health major and Psychology minor after taking intriguing classes and seeing the relevance of these fields amid the pandemic. I also initially planned to minor in Journalism, but when my plans fell through, I found other avenues to develop my skills, such as joining The News-Letter (shoutout to aspiring writers to join as well!).

I always kept my mind open to advice from family and friends, but the bottomline is that I knew to choose for myself. This is the best path to success because it ensures you are creating a career out of studies that YOU are passionate about. 

Also, don’t let the pressure of “having it all figured out” get to you. You are just at the beginning of four exciting years filled with countless opportunities. Enjoy them! If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that life is unpredictable and can’t always be planned out. But trust me when I say that everything always eventually works out.

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