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Freshmen Get Advice On Choice Of Major

By Vijay Shilpiekandula


Multiple choice questions can be tricky. When each option looks equally likely to be the correct answer, they can be downright scary. Now consider having 22 choices instead of the usual four or five.

Freshmen at MIT face this potentially nightmarish choice each year. The Class of 2005 will be introduced today to 22 possible majors from at the Choice of Major Fair in La Sala de Puerto Rico from 1 to 4 p.m. Students can interact with academic advisors and upperclassmen from each field.

“I have no clue what to do. It’s confusing as hell,” said Merritt S. Tam ’05.

“I haven’t figured out things yet. I am still wavering on what [my major] is going to be,” said Justin Y. Lam ’05.

Course selection forms must be signed by advisors and returned to the Student Service Center before the end of the year.

Identifying interests is key

“Go by what you like most,” said Sarah A. Laszlo ’04, a major in Brain and Cognitive Science (Course IX). When facing the same decision last year, Laszlo said she wanted to do “anything but engineering and the sedentary punching keyboard business” and that Course IX offered her an ample chance to interact with people around her. “I wasn’t worried about my resume,” she said.

“Applied math comes close to my interests,” said Timothy R. Kreider ’04, a major in the Department of Mathematics (Course XVIII). “It helps me keep in touch with fields as disparate as physics and economics.”

When trying to decide on a major, a process of elimination could come handy sometimes. “I know what I don’t want to do. That makes things easy,” Tam said.

Upperclassmen offer advice

A few classes over the fall and Independent Activities Period have given freshmen exposure to some of the departments, but others remain somewhat unknown to freshmen. To remedy this, “talk with upperclassmen ... and know more about possible options. Use ‘these lifelines,’” said Daniel R. Ramage ’04.

“Ask people about UROPs, size of classes, faculty-student interaction. These things matter,” Laszlo said. “If you aren’t comfortable with the stuff you learned in a class last term, probably that’s not something you would like to choose.”

The herd factor propels many freshmen to go for majors with which they might not feel comfortable. “I took up something which came closer to what I wanted, thus deviating from the beaten path of Course VI,” Kreider said.

Students should remember to not over-analyze the situation. “All departments are real nice to be in,” Laszlo said. “Work will not be miserable. If I work on long weekends, that’s because this is MIT.”

Choice of major not final

Choosing a major is not a million dollar question. The decision is important, but students can take some solace in knowing it is not binding. Many MIT students change their majors after declaring.

“Course XVIII suited me better,” said Alice S. Chau ’04, who changed over this IAP from Materials Science and Engineering (Course III). “It gave me more time to attend my pre-med classes.”

However, consistently changing majors adds an extra degree of difficulty. “There are a lot of units to be credited for the SB requirement. The earlier you settle with a decision, the better,” Ramage said. “This however doesn’t mean you must make a hasty decision.”

Some students even change majors fairly late into their undergraduate program. “I have just five more classes to complete for my Course XVI requirement,” said Maria E. Stiteler ’03. Stiteler said that she felt the unified requirements of sophomore year in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Course XVI) restricted her options of a minor. She changed to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course VI) later because she “started liking it more.”

MIT offers multiple options

Students often do not need to decide on just one major -- many double major, and until recently, some did even more. “If you have time and energy, these are nice things to do,” said Abhinav Kumar ’02, a triple major in Course VI, physics (Course VIII) and Course XVIII. Until last year, MIT allowed triple majors.

A less stringent minor option is also available. This gives the engineers avenues to explore other interests or some field supplementing their major.

“Violin offers the much needed respite from days of continuous coding,” said Robert Zhang ’02, a Course VI major. Zhang said that he enjoyed the personal attention he received from the professors in the music department. “Course VI is so large. I was lost initially, but thanks to TAs there, however, things remained afloat.”