This summer I collected droplets of advice from Stanford upperclassmen for the incoming freshmen. My interviewees were: Tony Pratkanis ’15, Phillip Hargrove (Phil) ’14, Mark Kirollos ’16, Karl Kumodzi ’14, Jordan Shapiro ’15, Orlando Trejo (OT) ’08 and Kristyn Williams ’16. Here’s an except from my compilation, “For the New Kids on The Farm”:
Choose a major as early as possible; it’s okay to switch later, but the process of picking one will force you to dedicate time to thinking deeply about it. Even if you plan to explore upon arrival, come in having selected a potential major or two and having made four-year plans for those majors so that your exploration has structure. You can find sample four-year plans online. Here’s a link to those in engineering.
There are several ways to go about selecting your major:
1. You can “decide in what way you would like to make an impact in the world and choose the major that will allow you to achieve that,” OT said.
2. Google different Stanford research guides and see which professors’ research looks interesting to you. Consider a major that would allow you to work on such projects. Here’s the research guide for the engineering departments.
3. Look through explorecourses.stanford.edu and pick out classes that sound interesting to you. Figure out which major the majority of your choices lie in.
By taking such steps, you’ll ensure you don’t overlook any cool majors. “I have a lot of friends who discovered late that a particular major would have really fit them,” Karl said. You don’t have to look at every single resource listed above. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
People have chosen their major in various ways. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a living and chose BioE because of its breadth. I was decisive in choosing my major because I was so indecisive on my career. With BioE, I can pick up a book in most engineering disciplines and not be totally lost. Also you can make superpowers with BioE,” Jordan said. “I came in thinking I was going to be IR and/or economics. I wanted to study international development and thought that was the way to do it. I got deep into IR but mid-sophomore year realized I wasn’t enjoying any of my classes. Then I took a history class and really, really liked it. It was “Intro to South Africa” by James Campbell. Everyone should take a class by him. He teaches American History as well. Anyways, I happened to be at an event at the Haas Center. This lady asked me my name, major … I said I was deciding between IR and history. She happened to be the co-director of the Public History/Public Service program. It was my first time hearing of the major. It was extremely interdisciplinary. All the IR and econ classes I had taken would count towards it, and it would allow me to take a lot more history classes. You should take classes that will actually help you discover your major. If you decide your major early, you’ll have time to take a bunch of interesting upper division classes and gain depth in your studies,” Karl said.
Since the quarter system moves fast, I don’t add any classes after the first week, and decide whether I’m going to drop any by the end of the second. One regret I have is taking organic chemistry out of sequence. I took CHEM 33 the winter of my freshman year and waited until the spring of my sophomore year to take CHEM 35. Bad idea; I had to brush up on all of CHEM 33 while learning CHEM 35 in the fast-paced quarter system. I did horribly. I would recommend taking as many classes in sequence as possible. Obviously this will position you most effectively as your memory will be fresh. Additionally, “Don’t take classes that you’re not prepared for. I regret taking CHEM 31x. Even though the slower-paced chem would have had some overlap with my high school class, it would have allowed me mastery over the fundamentals,” Mark said.
But there are ways to remedy the negative effects poor classes may have on your GPA. A good GPA booster class is Improv (TAPS 103). Introductory seminars are also great for boosting your GPA. “They have the added benefit of being really interesting. My sophomore year introsem, Masters of Disaster, flew us to Phoenix. In Revolutionary Concepts of the Cosmos, we went to an observatory where we were able to see Saturn,” Phil said. “Courserank gives you a grade distribution. Any 5-unit class that has an A- average/median is likely a GPA booster,” OT said. However, classes that boost your GPA in general won’t be helpful for those companies that look at just your GPA within your major.
For the full advice piece, “For the New Kids on The Farm,” which includes Stanford Hacks, tips on keeping yourself emotionally healthy and more visit sufroshadvice.weebly.com.
Contact Maya Odei at [email protected].