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Finding Social Studies...and Myself?

I walked onto Harvard’s campus for the first time with a plan - or so I thought. With the stress of senior year and the admissions process behind me, I was eager to begin my meticulously planned college career. I would major in Government - I was certain of it - and when I graduated I would either run campaigns or run for office myself. My friends and family sent me off with jokes of “I can’t wait to vote for you!” As my subway car pulled into Harvard Square last August I launched out of my seat, passing the escalator so I could run up the stairs to Harvard Yard. In just a few weeks, all these preconceived notions of what I wanted from college and from my life went out the window.

William James Hall

Photo Credit: Courtesy of wjh.harvard.edu

Above: You can find the Social Studies Department in William James Hall!

It all started with my pre-orientation program, the First-Year Urban Program or FUP. Many of the upperclassmen FUP-leaders I met and talked with were studying Social Studies and encouraged me to check it out. At first I laughed, “Social Studies? You mean like my elementary school classes?” Wrong - not like my elementary school classes at all! I learned this when I went to meet with my freshman academic advisor only to discover that she was the Director of Studies for the Social Studies Department! She explained that Social Studies is an interdisciplinary major that allows students to take classes across the social sciences (History, Economics, Sociology, Government, and Anthropology) in order to study social problems. If I chose Social Studies, I would have the freedom to take classes of my choosing across all these subjects and use them as a foundation for writing a senior thesis.


economics notes and the pens used to write them
Above: I took these notes for my economics class - all Social Studies students are required to take at least one!

I took her advice and used Shopping Week, a time when students can try out classes before deciding whether or not to enroll, to look at all sorts of classes across the social sciences. Because I’m really interested in law, first semester I took a freshman-only seminar on constitutional law, taught by a law school professor, and a class about studying 20th century American history that gave me a great opportunity to research the history of birth-control law! Second semester I took a sociology class called Law & Society, for which I did legal-related community service and wrote a long research paper on hiring discrimination. By the end of the year I had studied law in three different classes, in three different ways. I realized not only that Social Studies was the right major for me, but that law school just might be where I want to go next!

 

About the author

Hello! My name is Ally Scharmann and I’m a sophomore from Western Massachusetts living in Winthrop House. I plan to concentrate in Social Studies with a secondary in History of Art and Architecture... View full profile

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