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Other Major Options

Some Choose Courses Off MIT’s Beaten Path

By Melissa Cain

associate features editor

So all of your friends are declaring Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), but you have a calling to study anthropology. Well don’t worry: you’re not the only one.

Although less popular majors like anthropology are often overlooked by freshmen who come to MIT thinking that they have to major in Course VI or another engineering major, it is important to investigate the less popular majors as well.

A lot of MIT students major or double major in courses other than computer science or engineering because they want individual attention, smaller classes, or a more well-rounded education.

Smaller majors mean smaller classes

Large lectures are okay for freshmen classes, but many students prefer the smaller classes and more individual attention that is available to students who choose smaller majors.

Francisco J. Delatorre ’01, one of two seniors majoring in CMS (Comparative Media Studies), said that one of the benefits of having a small major is “the closeness; you know everyone else, from the faculty to the other people in the major.”

Lindsey E. Malcom ’01, a major in Course XII (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences) said that the members of her major are “like a family.”

Sonja J. Ellefson ’01, also a Course XII major, said that “it is cool because you get to know the other people.”

In addition to being close to others in their major, people in small majors tend to have a closer relationship with the faculty.

“XXI-M (Music) is so much nicer than Course VI because the teachers actually care about you and actually know you,” said Seth M. Bisen-Hersh ’01, who is majoring in both Course XXI-M (Music) and Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).

Another benefit of choosing a smaller major is that you will receive a lot of personal attention during class. “In my lab class (12.307), the teacher-to-student ratio is greater than one to two. The class is so personalized that the teacher is like a student in my group,” said Michelle A. Nadermann ’03.

Delatorre currently works for Henry Jenkins, the CMS Program Director. “I doubt many people in Course VI get opportunities like that.” he said.

Nadermann also said that “small classes mean you won’t get away with not learning anything.”

How do you choose your major?

Not all MIT students graduate with the same major that they put in the freshmen picture book. This seems to be particularly true for students in the smaller majors, especially ones that students might not have had much exposure to before coming to the Institute.

A lot of students changed their mind after taking a class or two. Delatorre originally planned to major in Course XVI (Aeronautics and Astronautics). “I was going to be an actual rocket scientist,” he said.

However, Delatorre took a class about film music and decided that he would not have the flexibility that he wanted in Course XVI to take some interesting Course XXI classes. He switched his major to Course XIII (Ocean Engineering) because it had a less structured curriculum but found that even this was not enough freedom.

“I found myself loving the more artistic end of science and technology, so I switched [to CMS],” he said.

For Nadermann it was more of a process of elimination. She came to MIT intending to major in math, but “I didn’t really want to,” she said. When it was time to choose a major Nadermann knew which majors she definitely did not want to select and eventually decided on XII. “It was one of the few majors that didn’t immediately drive me away, and the Green Building is cool,” she said.

Not all fun and games

While most people could not say enough good things about their small major, they did admit that there were several disadvantages, such as finding people to study with and getting jobs.

“Because [Course XII] it is so small, it doesn’t have some of the classes that are offered at other schools, but you can take those at Harvard if you want,” Ellefson said.

“A disadvantage is that there aren’t 50 other people in your dorm in your major to ask about problem sets,” Nadermann said. She also said that less common majors like XII tend to yield fewer lucrative jobs.

“Smaller majors are never targeted at career fairs.” Malcom said. “The number of places I can work is limited.”

Lori A. Eich ’03, also a Course XII major, encouraged freshmen to “to do what you want to do and what interests you, not necessarily what will make you the most money.”

Many people said that a disadvantage could be that MIT only offers a limited number of classes in the smaller majors and may not cover many portions of smaller majors.

“One disadvantage is the classes aren’t offered every year, so it is sometimes hard to plan your schedule,” Ellefson said.

Bisen-Hersh said that while he likes the small class sizes of XXI-M, he is sometimes annoyed by the mandatory attendance policy. Low enrollments make this policy quite easy to enforce.

Knowledge makes you wise

Many students in the smaller majors had words of wisdom to give to freshmen who are thinking about choosing a small major.

“Have an open mind. Explore all options. Make sure you love what you do,” Malcom said.

Delatorre encouraged freshmen to explore and shop around before settling in on a major. “Choosing a major is hardly binding. Explore a bit to find out what you like best. You can do whatever you want. No regrets, no worries,” he said.