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A minor choice: majors

As the major declaration process ends with the “Academic Homecoming: Major Madness” event Wednesday evening, many sophomores will indubitably find themselves picking up a t-shirt with the name of a major that they are less than excited about. Some will likely ask themselves whether they might have made a bad choice in choosing a “practical major” rather than one they are passionate about. Regardless of feelings or situations, all students should realize that although choosing a course of study is important, it need not be a high-pressure, life-defining decision.

For one, students can simply change their major. Duke’s relatively lax core curriculum affords undergraduates a level of flexibility that lets them switch between even unrelated courses of study. Although perhaps scary, that choice is always open. It is important, though, for the agency of that choice to lie wholly with a student—not with the pressure of their friends or the words of their parents. While it is understandable that some parents might wish to influence their student’s major decision, they ought to realize that their kids, likely adults, must be allowed to begin making choices for themselves, starting with choice of what classes they take.

Students unsure about their major choice can take solace in the fact that most courses of study in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences take 12 or fewer classes. That leaves undergraduates between 20 and 35 other courses to explore their academic curiosities. A budding sophomore economics student could easily study the history of hip-hop, become a pseudo-expert in Wittgenstein and become knowledgeable about health care by the time they graduate. And even if they were unable to take extra classes, they could easily choose to work with a professor, expanding their academic horizons in another way.

For students who have chosen a 16-course biophysics major and cannot take extra classes or work in labs outside of their academic concentration, there is more good news still: academic exploration at Duke does not end in the lecture hall. If majoring in biophysics prevents someone from satisfying a penchant for writing, they could join any number of writing groups on campus (the Editorial Board among them). If that person were instead pining for a chance to explore politics, they could attend events held by the American Grand Strategy group or take a more active role by exploring local government at Duke and in Durham.

The bottom line is that Duke University allows students to explore academics both outside class and through an enormous number of possible combinations of majors, minors and certificates that can be safely completed with room to spare. Even students studying two disjointed topics have a chance to engage fully with both ends of their studies and produce world-class work.

Choosing a major is a necessary step in a Duke undergraduate career, but it need not be life altering. A computer science major does not prevent a student from becoming a chemist, and a chemistry major does not prevent a student from becoming a computer scientist.

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