Lennon ’18: Concentration complications

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

As I dive into my sophomore year with eight months left until sophomores reach the deadline for choosing a concentration, I wonder how much the decision matters. Many of us hear how a degree from the prestigious Brown University is very respected. Therefore, the concentration is not as important as the degree itself. The American Bar Association doesn’t recommend any majors, nor do most medical schools. There are people working at Google as history concentrators and students starting their careers in film as biology concentrators. Having the freedom to concentrate in anything you like, even if Brown doesn’t offer it, is a beautiful opportunity. But once the possibilities become endless, so do the problems. Students have to choose a concentration within a short span of time and typically have no plan to lead them there. The irony is that being “planless” is the best way to approach each semester until you are sure about a concentration.

Trying to balance the limited time you have to choose a concentration and the many classes offered at Brown can be difficult. Four years is not a long time. If you are anything like me, by the age of seven you probably let go of your dreams to be a princess or a pirate and decided between two more practical career choices: doctor or lawyer. I had a plan when I entered Brown: medical school, private practice, marriage, kids, retire. This seemed like the perfect idea until I entered my freshman year. Classes on love, art and death all sparked my interest, so I took a chance. My head flooded with new possibilities. Did I really want to be a doctor, or did it merely seem like the right thing to do?

Time dissipated while I followed everyone’s advice to “explore my interests.” Even with shopping period, I still found myself in classes that weren’t as interesting as they initially seemed. By the end of my first semester, I may have gotten closer to finding a concentration, but it took me a whole semester to shrink my list of choices. Initially, I became frustrated by not being able to find a group of classes that related. I was tired of answering the, “What’s your concentration?” question with “undecided.” But I learned that my unplanned process was not as pointless as I thought. By second semester, I had become a master shopper. I’d know within 30 minutes if a class was meant for me. I did not have a specific concentration in mind yet, but I knew if I liked math more than science. College is only four years, and even one of the most flexible schools in the nation won’t allow you to graduate with a mix of random classes.

Now, I am in no way arguing against the open curriculum. If anything, going to a school with a more strict set of guidelines could hinder you from finding the right concentration, while more open schools like Brown push you to find a concentration within the short span of four years because you have no general requirements to get in the way. Even if my degree from Brown is considered impressive, I would still like it to represent something I am passionate about and reflect who I am as a person. But how do you pick a concentration in such a small amount of time?

I used to think that experience was the answer to this question. I even interned at a pediatrician’s office this summer in hopes that I’d one day wake up and say, “I want to be a doctor!” The issue is that certain jobs like those in the medical field don’t offer a lot of experience to undergraduate students. During my time at the internship, I followed and followed and followed some more. It was interesting watching, but I had the urge to get hands-on experience. How could I tell if this is something I want to do during my four undergraduate years with no experience in the field? The answer lies in doing what you want.

The decision comes down to you and what you feel in your heart (hopefully by the declaration date). I haven’t experienced this feeling yet, but I imagine that finding the perfect concentration and career is equivalent to stepping onto a college campus and knowing it is where you belong. You can read thousands of articles, take every personality test out there and even shop every class at Brown. While these may get you closer, there is no perfect formula to finding a concentration that fits you. Some of us unfortunately won’t like the choice we made in about five years, but we will remember the experiences at Brown that shaped us. This is why I’ve decided to take the pressure off myself about finding a major and focus on “college-ing.” I’d hate to waste the “four best years of my life” refreshing Banner.

Maya Lennon ’18 always wants a Blue Room muffin.

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