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Forging my own path through college

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Whenever I introduce myself to someone new – which, given that I’m a freshman, is exceedingly often – the question of what I’m planning on studying almost invariably follows. It’s a pretty straightforward ice-breaker, but I can never give a consistent answer.

While I do have some inkling of what I’d like to major in (probably something pertaining to the social sciences), I often find myself catering my response to the person asking in order to earn their respect. When I first met my dormmates, the overwhelming majority of whom were set on studying computer science or some form of engineering, I felt pressure to show some interest in a “techie” field in fear that not doing so would mark me as intellectually inferior. Occasionally, I’d even say I was considering the pre-med route, a thought borne more out of my love for medical dramas than my aptitude for the hard sciences (or lack thereof). 

When I take the time to mull over what I truly see myself doing in the future, becoming a doctor or an engineer is out of the picture. I’d much rather study something pertaining to communication, psychology, multimedia or even human biology (unaccompanied by pre-med requirements). But I frequently hear people referring to some of the interdisciplinary social sciences as “athlete majors” — the less demanding, easy-if-you-want-it-to-be fields of study that accommodate for uncompromising schedules. Not being a Division I athlete myself, I can’t help but feel a bit ashamed in my interests, like I’m somehow wasting my elite education on something frivolous and unchallenging. 

It’s important to remember, however, that despite being nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford is known for more than its “techie,” entrepreneurial vibe. Stanford is a top-tier university across the board whose every department strives to challenge and academically enrich its students. And despite its most popular major being computer science, arguably one of Stanford’s main tenets is its emphasis on intellectual diversity. Stanford values the unique gifts and passions that each and every student brings to the table. To force myself to “conform” would be fundamentally contrary to the university’s core values. 

In order to truly reap the benefits of a college education, it’s imperative that I make it my own instead of looking to others for validation. I’m relinquishing the belief that what I choose to study can somehow diminish my potential. I worked hard to get here, and it’s my prerogative to pave my own academic journey. 

Contact Eden Gibson at eden3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.