Section: Opinion

The sprint to declare

Everyone touted college as the “land of opportunity and promise,” a place where students would have the option to study anything and find out what they truly want to do in life. Happy students led our campus tours, showing our prospective-student selves the countless opportunities and facilities available to us here, be it the various science labs, the promise of studying abroad or the Gothic elegance of Ascension Hall. Kenyon’s facilities and curricula are so varied that, after this tour, it seemed clear one would be stupid not to take full advantage of them.

But most people don’t have the opportunity to do so, because it seems everyone is declaring their major earlier and earlier. A Wall Street Journal article (“Today’s Anxious Freshmen Declare Majors Far Faster Than Their Elders,” March 19, 2015)  cites an increase in students across the country declaring their major within their first year: “At Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., 13 percent of first-year students were undeclared this year, down from 31 percent in 2006-07. At DePaul University in Chicago, the percentage fell to 16 percent from 31 percent during the past seven years. At the University of Denver, undeclared freshmen declined to six percent from 33 percent in 1995-96.” This trend troubles me as a student because at college we should sample different courses before settling on what we want to do in life.

At the off-campus study information session a few weeks ago, sophomore attendees were told to declare their majors if they hadn’t already done so. It alarmed me that after only eight college classes I was being told to decide what to do with the next three years of my education and, to an extent, the rest of my life.

Declaring one’s major is a daunting thing. It requires a self-awareness that most people just don’t have after only one year of living and studying independently. Some people know exactly what they want to do in life and are ready to get started. But most of us don’t. That’s why we went to a liberal arts school—so we would be able to discover what we wanted to do and get a well-rounded, diverse education.

Some individuals want a more focused education than the total one that Kenyon offers. I have a friend who’s a physics major but loves French; because of distribution and major requirements, he’s had to take a break from studying the language. While this is disheartening, it is a necessary drawback of attending a liberal arts college. I feel the distribution requirements shouldn’t be something to groan at or simply check off; they encourage Kenyon students to get the complete education we all came here for.

I played violin for nine years and I hated it. I had to fulfill my art requirement somehow, and there’s no way I would survive an art history class. So I decided to take up drums. Why drums? Because I loved the movie Whiplash and because I had a requirement to fill; that was all the motivation I needed. From the very first practice,  I knew I had stumbled onto something great. Now, I practice every single day. I feel more relaxed after playing and I love it. Without the fine arts requirement, I probably would have stayed far away from music, but I’m glad that I had to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t declare your major early in your college career, if you know what you want to study. But don’t feel pressured to decide immediately. Kenyon has distribution requirements to help you find new things about yourself, and encourage you to broaden your horizons. I can guarantee you there’s something out there you haven’t tried that you will absolutely love.

Griffin Burrough is undeclared from Summit N.J. Contact him at


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