On February 13th, 2013, I had the honor of declaring a major at Washington University in St. Louis. It’s a big step for a student to take, so the school provides a fittingly big celebration for students who have finalized their academic plans.
For those in the school of Arts & Sciences, a major becomes a student’s academic home where he or she develops advanced skills of communication, critical thinking, ethical judgement and cultural awareness while studying a topic that inspires joy and curiosity.
Sophomore ArtSci students are required to declare a major at some point in mid-February (February 13th for us this year), after which they’re invited to attend a special Major Convocation starting at Graham Chapel and ending with a welcome session specific to your major hosted by your department’s professors, advisers, and older students. There, you can ask advisers to help plan out your academic curriculum over the next two years, and talk to upperclassmen majors about any questions or concerns you may have joining the department.
The support doesn’t stop once you’re done with the convocation, though. The Welcome Session is only the beginning of your journey as a declared student at WashU. You can now work closely with your major adviser in addition to your ArtSci adviser to help solidify your academic interests and ambitions. There’s a whole page on ArtSci website dedicated just to what a student should do after declaring his or her major.
The best part about this process, however, is how flexible it is. I know so many students who have started out as one major but decided in their junior year that they ultimately wanted to study another subject. I’ve been told by every single one that the switch was not difficult to make at all, and that the school was incredibly understanding in helping them pursue whatever curriculum best fit their interests.
That’s good news for someone like me who’s always teetering on the edge of indecision. So far I’ve declared a double major in Comparative Arts and in International and Area Studies (IAS), but I’m still considering possibly adding on a minor, dropping a major, or generally shuffling around the labels that will appear on diploma in one way or another.
With IAS, I’m planning on pursuing a concentration in Global Cultural Studies. This track focuses on the “practical and theoretical issues arising from cross-cultural encounters around the world. It studies these both by examining conventional cultural products (literature, film, visual art, and music), but also by investigating their broader political and social contexts. This concentration addresses compelling issues of cultural interchange for students interested in cultures for their own sake, as well as in careers in NGOs and international business and law. It is committed to interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary problems, and students may take courses in the language-and-literature disciplines, as well as in anthropology, art history, film, history, music, and philosophy”.
Comparative Arts, on the other hand, in a major unique to WashU that is housed in the Comparative Literature department. It “studies literature and art across national, cultural, and linguistic borders. The international and comparative range of the discipline provides students a broad critical understanding of what literature and art are and do. Since knowing the language is essential to understanding a given literature and culture, all majors study a second language and literature at an advanced level. At the same time, the study of works in translation, especially those originally written in non-European languages, provokes cross-cultural comparisons and helps prepare students for a multilingual, pluralistic, and global world. Comparison of literature to other kinds of arts, media, and writing further extends understanding of literature and culture.” The Comparative Arts major, as opposed to the Comp Lit major, will allow me to compare different art forms against one another (like dance to movies from a particular century in a certain country, for instance, or the development of musical theory in two distinct cultures), as well as pursue my own interest in the applied arts.
Both majors are pretty flexible in their degree requirements, allow me to take fantastic classes that fit all of my artistic, cultural, theoretical, and applied art interests, and will ensure that I graduate from this institution with some kind of diploma in my hands. If I ultimately choose to jump around between a few departments or change some of the labels on my major, that’s OK, too, as major declaration at WashU is a process that has been thought out considerably and is extremely student-friendly process, allowing space for all our indecision and uncertainty about our futures.