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Majoring in undecided

| Wednesday, February 5, 2020

“All I know is that I know nothing.” Yep, me too, Socrates. I might just have to tattoo that one on my forehead. Well, at least for the remainder of freshman year. 

My college experience thus far has been great, and I’ve certainly learned a lot, but a large part of it has been characterized by an overwhelming sense of ambiguity. I should start a running tally to count the number of times I utter the words, “I don’t know, man.” Before I even got to college, I just did not know. I didn’t know if I was choosing the right place to educate myself for four years, I didn’t know if I was going to survive, let alone enjoy, college, but above all, I didn’t know what exactly what I wanted to major in. I had a tentative plan, but plans change all the time, and I had a feeling my plans were subject to a great deal of modification.

The college discernment process is one that involves asking yourself a lot of questions. Big or small school? Warm or cold? As someone who struggles with the idea of decisions made with certainty, I was hot then cold, I was yes then no, and then, finally, I chose Notre Dame. One life decision down, many more to go. 

Another thing that this process involved was the Common App, a demon of all our pasts. You enter your personal information, the statistics you worked so hard to perfect, and the activities that set you apart from the thousands of other equally as smart, if not way smarter, applicants. Then, after you spend hours tirelessly scrutinizing every detail, you must pick an intended major before hitting ‘Submit.’ You avoided this at every turn, brushing off holiday inquisitions from curious family members. But the deadlines are quickly approaching, and therefore, the elders at the universities to which you hope to be accepted await your verdict. 

You begin to scroll through the options, imagining yourself as an accountant, no a writer, wait what about a lawyer? Your interests are too broad. It isn’t that you don’t like anything, it’s that you like a wide range of disciplines. You can’t make such a defining decision right now, sitting at your bedroom desk, nine months before you even get to whichever college you’re going to end up at. So you take a deep breath and decide that you are, as Thomas Rhett once sang, “majoring in undecided.” But wait … it can’t be. Undecided is not a button you can press. The college elders have the audacity to force you to pick. The nerve of those who already know what they were meant to do with their lives! So you pick one of the many, many enticing options, with hopes of experiencing a revelation of finite resolutions sometime soon.

Choices. Life is full of them. What if you choose wrong? What if you change your mind? “That’s fine. You’re supposed to,” is what they all say. They’re right, too. College is a time for exploration and self-discovery, but I’ve realized that browsing majors and career paths is no lighthearted task. It isn’t like sifting through racks of clothes at the mall. Sure, it can be fun to try on all the different outfits, or rather pair this major with this minor and this concentration, but the consequences are more serious than a few bucks missing from your wallet. It’s all fun and games while the clock is still ticking in your favor. Sooner or later, you really do have to choose, and what a scary thought that can be as a freshman who still uses her phone’s GPS to get to some buildings here. The title of “freshman” alone should disqualify me from being allowed to make any life-altering decisions, right? Then how come everyone around me seems so sure of themselves, so confident, so passionate about fields of study I have barely even scratched the surface of learning? 

As soon as I stepped on campus, I felt my clock start to tick. I was majorless and I hated feeling like a nomad in the world of academics. The Notre Dame introduction was always particularly difficult for me. I got the name and hometown part down, but I struggled with saying the “U” word in front of people who seemed so, well, decided. Sometimes I did muster up the courage to say “I’m undecided,” and sometimes other freshmen spoke words that were music to my apprehensive ears: “I am, too.” I waited for one of those epiphanies, the ones that you hear seniors talk about, or that you see in movies and books. I never missed a class. I did my homework and studied for all my exams, but I went home for Winter break still unsure, hoping that some Christmas angel would appear to me in a dream and whisper the answer in my ear. 

“Dear Santa,” I pleaded, “All I want for Christmas is a major.”

The year is now 2020 and guess what? I still don’t truly know. Fortunately, the fog has begun to clear and I have gravitated towards what is right for me, but I think it’s still important that people understand that a temporary lack of certainty does not signify defeat. There is hope for the majorless. I promise. You just have to trust the process. 

Sometimes it can feel as though the odds are against you. Notre Dame often claims to be on your side, with their First Year of Studies exploratory program, but the system is shifting. My freshmen friends in the Mendoza College of Business have begun to take some of their core classes, and have thus been propelled even further on the path of major/career discernment. Their process was expedited and mine seemed stifled. I felt behind, but I was not complacent. I fought the good fight for myself, seeking out different, engaging ways to get involved without the luxury of a guaranteed seat in some of the classes that could help clear the academic fog. Instead, I sought out those kinds of opportunities in other ways, by means of clubs, workshops and various activities. In that way, Notre Dame is indeed on my side.

If you make it to the bottom of this column, you will see my short bio that contains none other than my Notre Dame introduction. I’ll admit — I was too scared to put my major down as undecided when I was prompted yet again to answer the question I do not have a definite answer to, so I wrote what is one of many possible outcomes for my major(s). I’m still figuring it out; we all are. I just happen to be a little more unsure than most. I think that’s okay, though. I sure hope it is.

I recognize that the answers to my prayers will not be found by having an attitude of defeat, but rather by having an appetite for experience. Next time someone asks me what my major is, I hope I have the strength to tell them that, because it is the truth. I’m embracing the uncertainty and I can’t wait to see where this indefinite journey takes me.

Meghan Cappitelli is a freshman studying Economics and English at Notre Dame. A native of Long Island, New York, she enjoys running, procrastinating and eating ice cream for dinner. She can be reached at [email protected] or @meghancapp on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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