Undecided? Advice For Majors Still in the Making, From a Senior Who Took Every Pit Stop

The spring before I planned to start at Pitt, I loaded my blue Ford Escape and prepared for the four-hour drive. I was leaving home to attend Admitted Student Day. As I started off on my drive, alone, I was left to contemplate what I knew would come next. I was not only preparing to meet my potential peers, but to plead my case for more significant financial aid. Pitt had the degree program of my dreams, but I was not going to be able to attend if I could not pull off a miracle.

Flash forward, and towards the end of Admitted Student Day I had already met with three of the four staff I had asked to speak with ahead of time. As I entered my final meeting, I was starting to feel defeated, as I had made no headway on my goals. However, the final meeting would be the most important as I was talking directly with two financial aid counselors. As I sat down in their office in Alumni Hall, I held onto my last shred of optimism.

“So, tell us about yourself.” Of course, the dreaded question. However, I surprised myself by going off-script from the monologue I had prepared in the car. What I said next was really, truly from the heart.

“Hi, I’m Karenna – and I’m here today to tell you the greatest love story that may never be.” Okay, so I was exaggerating, and it sounds totally cliche now, but the conviction I had must have been something to behold. I spent the next few minutes chronicling my love affair with Pitt, and how I knew I belonged in the Global Studies Department. I explained my intention to pursue the Bachelor of Philosophy in International Studies, an Honors College degree, and how my global upbringing and identity fueled my passion. I also emphasized my intentions to work abroad, and to be a changemaker in my career.

When I finished, the financial aid counselors seemed intrigued. We exchanged some dialogue, a few questions and answers between the three of us, until finally they fell silent. “Give us a second to consult,” one of them said, and then they both stood and went into another room. Fiddling with my phone, I was prepared for them to break the bad news. However, that was not what they had in mind when they came back with a revised award amount. My award was $4,000 no longer – it had shot up to $20,000!

I am forever grateful for those two financial aid counselors who changed my life. I accepted the offer to come to Pitt right after that weekend, and have never once regretted it. However, ironically enough I am not a BPhil Candidate. College helped me define my goals, and I was not sure enough about graduate school to embark on the long, research-heavy BPhil process. That being said, I am still amazed by the BPhil and think it is a one-of-a-kind degree that everyone should consider, and especially those with grad school goals.

So now that I’m no longer in the BPhil, you might be wondering where I ended up. I am now majoring in Political Science (International Relations) and English Writing (Nonfiction), minoring in Turkish, and getting certificates in Global Studies (Peace, Conflict and Security) as well as Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. The Global Studies Certificate is a common alternative to the BPhil that still allows you to take similar coursework and get a language under your belt, with less commitment than the BPhil. There is also the Global Health Certificate for the more medically-minded folk, which has many of the same benefits and requirements of the Global Studies Certificate (only, no language is required for the health version). 

Early on I had considered Administration of Justice, Economics, Psychology, and more, but ultimately this ended up being the best mix of disciplines for me. That being said, I honestly do sometimes wonder if I made the right choice. Maybe I should have done the BPhil, or followed my late-blooming passion for Sociology. Although I am somehow still unsure of my decisions as a second-to-last-semester senior, I feel confident in the end it will not make too much of a difference. I have faith the quality of my coursework and outside-the-classroom activities will speak for themselves, and you should too!

One thing that I do regret from my time at Pitt is not taking an Honors course. There are many options, but because I joined the Honors college later in my college years and then spent so much time abroad, I just never got the opportunity. I have only heard great things about the Honors curriculum, and would recommend taking Honors courses in subject areas that interest you. In fact, I would also recommend going for the Honors distinction and doing an Honors degree like the BPhil, if it works out for you and aligns with your interests. There are endless opportunities, all for your taking!

Although it can be daunting to choose a major, rest assured that there are no mistakes. Whatever you choose, it will lead you down a unique path, irreversible in some ways but always mutable by nature. Speaking to advisers, professionals in the field you want to go into, and other students can be a great way to figure out your own, personalized plan – but at the end of the day, do what is true to you, and do it boldly.

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