Concentration Contemplation


Last Monday, I was a Sociology concentrator. On Tuesday, I was a Psychology concentrator in the Mind, Brain, Behavior track (recently renamed the Cognitive Neuroscience track, for those of you who didn’t know that). By Wednesday, I was concentrating in Folklore & Mythology, and when Thursday rolled around, I was applying for Visual & Environmental Studies. As I celebrated Friday, I gave second thought to the English department and considered Literature. At the start of Saturday, I contemplated Philosophy and by the end of Sunday, I was skimming through Women and Gender

In short, I am the epitome of Undecided.

Indecision circulates through every nerve of my body whenever I sit down to think about the dreaded “C” word. I juggle thoughts about creative theses, interesting classes, and math requirements (or, in my case, hopes about the lack thereof). I weigh variables like concentration size, anecdotal opinions from seniors and juniors, and where
General Education fits into the puzzle. (I am switching to Gen Ed for sure, though. Not only do the categories have catchier names, but I’ve found at least one class in each category that suits my academic tastes. Plus, you can’t go wrong with double-counting.)

The countdown to choosing my concentration is on, and there are a mere two weeks separating me from my official declaration. I’ve tried to poke around the Plan of Study form twice already and gotten discouraged — not because I haven’t been able to firmly decide on a concentration,
but because the boxes and columns are disorienting and confusing. I can’t quite seem to figure out how to put classes onto the tool or how to read the key at the top of the page, and I haven’t been able to sit down and feel focused enough to attempt to decipher it.

I’ve spent many nights scanning through concentration pages and reading course descriptions, envisioning myself graduating from Harvard College with a degree in any one of them. I’ve had dinner talks, academic advising talks, and family talks about my future. Going around in circles, I’m dizzy from all of the possibilities and probable repercussions. If I am sure of one thing, it’s that that I want to work in the field of entertainment news as a correspondent, and that if Harvard had a Communications concentration, I would be all over it. But Harvard doesn’t have a Communications concentration. They do have the available options for Joint Study programs and Special Concentrations. But I think it may be a tad late for me to consider those two. Plus, I entered campus knowing that I would want to have a major and a minor (or, in Harvard terminology, a concentration and a secondary field). The only other sure thing about my academic plans is that I am getting a citation in Spanish.

Only one more semester — and it’ll be completed. Let’s recap. I know I want to do Gen Ed. Add eight classes. I know I want to work in media. Stir in something humanities-based, with storytelling and a focus on social interaction. (Reporting is all about the ability to share a good story.) I know I am getting my citation. Mix in one more semester. I know that I cannot work the Plan of Study card tool. Add coffee for a late night filled with navigating attempts. I know that I have a wide range of interests. Dash in electives.

Most importantly, I know I’m not the only sophomore who feels like this.

It’s okay to be all over the board, even if it does create more frenetic energy and mind-boggling indecision into one’s head. Deciding a concentration is a serious commitment. We’re scheduling ourselves into required classes and narrowing our focus onto one primary subject. And maybe that’s what scares us the most—that we’re losing our opportunity to explore what we like when we cannot be 100% certain of what we love. We’re picking our favorite car without test-driving all of them.

But, I’ve realized, through the past few nights of long discussions and harrowing internal turmoil that it really comes down to the simple question of happiness. Do I like the storytelling that’s ingrained in Folk & Myth? Or would I enjoy sitting down to sociologists like Durkheim and Weber every night? Does the thought of writing a research paper for a senior thesis bring a grin or a grimace to my lips? Which classes have I raved about to my friends back home and which assignments have I been turning around in my head days before the deadline?

When we’ve sifted through the different options and the required classes, we know that we’ll be happy with the academic scene regardless. We can change our minds, explore through our electives, and remember the reason why we came here — to learn from our classmates and professors, challenge our academic views, and stimulate our intellectual growth. And no matter which concentration we choose, we’re already guaranteed this experience.

Sanyee Yuan ’12 (syuan@fas) can’t wait for what the future
will bring.