Balk: In defense of indecision in declaring majors


Tim Balk, Opinion Editor

Majors don’t matter all that much.

Don’t get me wrong. They can indeed lead you down career paths, structure friend groups and define the academic focus of your college career. But the same thing is true of where you live on campus or what extracurriculars you participate in.

Therefore, I’d like to push back against some of the notions presented by Alexi Stocker in his column on Thursday arguing in support of choosing a major early.

Stocker noted that picking a major early allows for more flexibility at the back end of one’s NU career. Perhaps. But I’m not sure flexibility as a junior or senior is more valuable than flexibility as a freshman or sophomore.

Delaying the decision to commit to a specific field of study provides more time for personal and academic growth.

Stocker also argues for “front-loading coursework” and taking five classes if possible. Again, I disagree. As it is, many NU students arrive on campus with too great a focus on getting pesky distribution requirements out of the way.

This is misguided. Depending on the major, distribution requirements can often be fulfilled in a variety of ways, and the perfect class to fulfill a distro might not arise first quarter of freshman year. Finding good classes that spark interests should be valued above academic and pre-professional planning if possible.

As for taking five classes a quarter? Well, perhaps to each his own, but five-class quarters is certainly not an optimal recipe for all NU students — just taking four classes in a quarter provides significant stress to many of us.

What’s more, for academically motivated students, it may in fact be the less the merrier. Fewer courses means greater engagement in each individual class, which can in turn lead to sparked interests and maximized learning. At least for me, taking five classes in a quarter would result in getting less out of each class.

I’d also like to respectfully disagree that evenings out are “more enjoyable after turning 21.” Freshman year of college in particular is an incredibly social time for many at NU. People find their place, build social groups and make life-long friends in the first year of college. It is worthwhile and important for students to make time for their social lives early in their college careers. After all, the social groups built early in one’s college life will be the bedrock for the rest of their time in Evanston.

There is much more to college than what you do in the classroom. And majors are just a small part of that classroom experience. They are, more than anything, a representation — often false — of a broader academic path. I’ve majored in journalism since I came to NU. And yes, I’ve learned plenty about journalism here. But I’ve learned far more in college about society, history, inequality, politics and economics than I have about news briefs or ledes. And if I had arrived at NU without a declared major, my path would have been different but no less academically rewarding.

Academic flexibility is valuable. Not being pigeonholed into a major can be a great place to start, just as starting out with a major can be. The emphasis at college should be on finding oneself, not on insuring that you have a quarter senior year when you’re only taking two classes.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a major early. They are changeable and often irrelevant. But there’s nothing wrong with waiting it out, too.

NU students shouldn’t feel they need to rush into majors or check off distribution requirements immediately upon arrival. The early years of college shouldn’t be sacrificed. They’re too good to waste.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.