On the benefits of academic exploration

Lauren Alley | Senior Forum Editor

With one major and one minor, both of which are in the same school, I often feel like I am in some way underachieving. Not because of what I am studying, but because it feels like everyone I talk to has a long list of majors, minors, concentrations, integrations and whatever else looks good stamped at the top of your resume. But, everytime I have a crisis and think about what I need to tack onto my own resume, I stop myself, always for the same reason. Pursuing so many different majors or minors means an absurd amount of requirements, allowing relatively little room to explore classes outside those that are forced upon you. I believe that spreading yourself thin in this manner unnecessarily limits what courses you can explore, all in order to add often unnecessary elements to your resume.

Firstly, and most obviously, allowing yourself to explore different classes in different departments helps ensure that what you do end up majoring in is your passion. This is not to say that you cannot be committed to a major from the beginning—I am a psychology major and have wanted to pursue this major since middle school—but rather, exploration helps you make absolutely certain that the passion you have already felt holds strong for you. Taking different classes may help you see exactly how you want to use your major. To find the passion within your passion and see where and how you can use your expertise to better the world in some way.

Taking classes in different departments helps you practice different ways of thought, making you a bit more well-rounded and able to come at problems from multiple angles. For example, rather than just understanding a concept from the psychological point of view, it can be constructive to also look from a philosophical, anthropological and biological viewpoint, thus allowing for a much more comprehensive look than what would have been available from locking oneself into just one major’s viewpoint.

I understand that many people have apprehension towards exploring different classes out of fear of failure. They want to stay in their comfort zone and stick with classes that they feel secure they can perform well in. That is why the pass/fail and audit options exist. They allow for exploration without the destruction of your oh-so-precious GPA. However, I have still encountered people that think pass/fail is not an acceptable option to use and that every class must be taken for a grade, and that this grade must be an A. This is the same overachieving impulse that makes so many students declare too many majors and minors and overcommit to extracurriculars. This is the application of high school logic to the real world. In my experience of taking classes outside of my comfort zone, I simply stay after class on the first day to explain things to the teacher: I do not have the same background as many of the other students but I was taking the class because I wanted to learn something new for me and broaden my horizons. Professors tend to meet this with enthusiasm (believe it or not, they often actually love teaching), offering up outside resources to help me gain the background and basic vocabulary my classmates may already have.

Employers may even be impressed by a broad range of coursework, perceiving it as a sign of open-mindedness, well-roundedness, even just a thirst for knowledge and understanding. Beyond the academic, I believe that there is a humanitarian argument to be made for lessening your major or minor requirements and freeing yourself to take classes in different departments. Exploring different courses and pushing yourself to understand that which is outside of your current frame of reference can help you ultimately understand people that are different from yourself, promoting tolerance.

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