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Major Decisions: Being Undecided at Carleton

Joe describes the process of exploring classes, choosing a major, and weighing the pros and cons of different departments.

Joe describes the process of exploring classes, choosing a major, and weighing the pros and cons of different departments.

Uh Oh! Making Major Decisions (pun intended)

Despite being a Taurus, decision-making is not my strong suit. I wanted to study everything when I came to Carleton—from economics to biology to Spanish, the liberal arts model was a huge draw for me. I believed that with almost 2 years to explore before declaring a major, I would be able to confidently make a decision when the time came. After all, over 40% of Carleton students come in undecided about what they would like to major in. The social sciences initially attracted me, because I wanted to combine my passion for social justice with my interest in research and writing. So whenever someone asked, “What’s your major?,” I tentatively said Sociology-Anthropology (otherwise known as SoAn) with a Spanish minor. 

Carleton regularly hosts public health panels and events – another resource for academic and extracurricular exploration

Social Sciences and Curricular Exploration

With this mindset, I started my Carleton career focused on the humanities. My first term, I took Intro to Macroeconomics, Spanish Conversation and Composition, and an English A&I seminar called Literary Revision. While Economics wasn’t for me, I especially enjoyed Spanish and English. I ended up taking 2 more English classes that year—Black Speculative Fiction in the winter and Queer Literature in the spring. 

I also took Intro to Sociology my first winter, and I absolutely loved it. Liz Raleigh is an amazing professor, and I got a survey of foundational sociological thought as well as modern applications of the sociological imagination to iPhones and the company Uber. This inspired me to take Anthropology of Health and Illness and Ethnography of Reproduction the following year. 

Two undercurrents of my social sciences courses are gender/sexuality and public health (which are NOT mutually exclusive!). Even when I took classes outside of the SoAn department, they were dealing with issues of social identity, equity, health, and policy. This means that even for the English, History, and Political Science classes that didn’t count for my major, there were so many connecting threads that built upon pre-existing knowledge while expanding my base in each discipline. The liberal arts were truly doing its magic!

soan breakfast
Breakfast with my friend Nadia after our Intro to Sociology class!

Computer Science—Who Saw That Coming? 

Under Carleton’s educational model, everyone has to step out of their comfort zone at some point. I anticipated this when I saw the Lab Science, Formal Statistical, and Quantitative Reasoning requirements. Here’s a comprehensive list of Carleton’s graduation requirements. Some of these classes were easily fulfilled with one-off courses such as Genes, Evolution, and Development or Intro to Statistics. However, there was one wild-card class that ended up sticking: Intro to Computer Science

I started taking CS during spring of 2020, at the start of pandemic lockdown. Surprisingly, this class was an anchor during this time. I took detailed notes on every lecture, and would show up to optionally synchronous days to ask questions about the materials. I found myself spending hours on the lab assignments. When the term ended, one thought rang in my head: I want more. 

The following year, I continued down this technological path. I took Data Structures during the winter and Programming Languages: Implementation and Design in the spring. I enjoyed each class more than the last. It was halfway through my winter term that I started seriously considering a CS major, something that never would have occurred to me my freshman fall. With no prior CS experience, the field always seemed exclusive to me, and my peers seemed much more intuitive than me when it came to coding. But after meeting with my current professors as well as others in the department, I felt confident that I could succeed in these classes and potentially in the major. 

Students and faculty gather together at a computer science event
Students and faculty gather together at a Computer Science event.

Declaring my Major (Yikes)

When the first week of spring 2021 arrived, I declared Sociology-Anthropology as my major. This was not a difficult decision per se. I had enjoyed my SoAn classes and knew that I wanted to go into a career with some social aspect, whether that be social services, social justice, law, or just talking to people. However, I also used that initial declaration as a placeholder. I still have time to pursue either major and graduate by the spring of 2023. I will also have space in my schedule to study abroad in Madrid with the Spanish department, an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. 

While deciding between SoAn and CS may seem like choosing between polar opposites, I rest assured knowing that the most important aspect of my degree is that it is from Carleton. I will graduate with a toolbox of sociological research experience, the ability to code in at least 4 languages, as well as the writing and critical thinking skills that employers and graduate schools expect from Carleton grads.

Plus, the overlap between sociology and CS is surprisingly robust despite being somewhat unexplored. I am eager to explore the connections between these fields as well as public health and social justice along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Carleton’s education has already allowed me to begin this exploration, and has introduced me to other students in similar situations as mine. Being undecided at college can be scary, as this feels like a final checkpoint before entering the “real world.” But the resources, courses, and people at Carleton make this indecisiveness not only possible, but productive and exciting.

Joe is a rising junior at Carleton from Chicago, IL. They plan on majoring in either Sociology/Anthropology or Computer Science, and enjoys studying public healthSpanish, and gender and sexuality. Outside of class, Joe is an RA on campus, and you can find them singing in Exit 69 A Cappella, doing makeup in their room, or drinking excessive amounts of coffee in Sayles. Meet the other Bloggers!