When School of Foreign Service students hear that they have to write an essay to declare their majors, their first reaction might be, “Not another paper!” Upon seeing the prompt of 250-500 words, “Oh, easy!” might be the next one. But when I read a 30-minute job, I call the student out on that: “How much time did you spend on this? Do you know this major declaration can change your life?”
Don’t get me wrong, it is not the major that will change your life. It is the process of major declaration that can get you on a life-changing path.
When I ask, “Do you want to become an average Georgetown graduate?” many students shake their heads. “Average” must be a dirty word.
What do I mean by “average?” That is taking one course after another, studying hard, getting some good grades and fulfilling graduation requirements. This average is plenty good. Parents will be content. But there is a simple way to achieve much more for yourself, without having to do additional work.
That is, to identify a topic you will focus on, and construct your learning around it, both inside and outside the classroom. It involves identifying your niche, your “it” topic. Your story of college.
This will influence everything you do. When you select your courses, you will go with Professor Mean over Professor Nice, because Professor Mean has expertise on your topic. That would have involved looking up the professors’ research areas, rather than checking out RateMyProfessor (students who took my International Trade course can grin here).
When you do the optional readings on the syllabus — do we ever? — you will desire to read the ones related to your subject. While doing the required readings, what is relevant to your topic will stand out, and you will pause and contemplate rather than rushing to finish.
The topics of papers you wrote in different courses are probably scattered, but you can begin to focus and build on one after the other. Your extracurriculars, study abroad, internships, summer activities and Tombs conversations (okay, maybe not this) will start to revolve around your topic. You can roll one big snowball rather than multiple small ones, with the same amount of work.
If this topic is aligned with your passion and interest, good things will happen. Learning will no longer be a chore and Lau hours will pass very quickly. As you gain expertise, you will impress professors at their office hours with thoughtful conversations and they might be happy to write your recommendations. You can become the campus expert on your topic, professors included.
You do not need a grand plan. You can live in the present moment to enjoy the new discoveries each day, and before you know it, you will have a big snowball. Measured by the expertise on your topic, you will become a top graduate. That beats GPA.
When the time comes for job interviews, you can look straight into the eyes of the interviewer, and say, “I studied this topic with passion and I know everything about it. Try me.” If that is backed by accumulated knowledge and experience, I would hire you on the spot.
For you, your career will be fulfilling if people count on you professionally because of your expertise and what you are capable of doing to help them.
I often see students experiencing difficulty making choices, trying so hard to compare which option might be slightly better. If you have a topic you are passionate about, you can let that guide your choice, and by working hard, that choice will end up being the best one.
So, be thoughtful when declaring your majors and pursuing your topic of choice. It does not matter your class year because we are all lifelong learners. I am learning each day, and my topic is you. The path to the peak can only be seen after you make it to the plateau, and the continuous pursuit of your passion topic will get you there.
Mitch Kaneda is an Associate Dean and Director of Undergraduate Program at the School of Foreign Service. FROM THE DEAN’S DESK is a rotating column that appears every other Friday.
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