Exploring the Best Concentration at Harvard: Undecided

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Aisha Abdelhamid Class of '23
Authored on April 25, 2022

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I am one of the most indecisive people you will ever meet. At least I think I am, I’m not sure. My indecisiveness carried over to my academics, but after some exploration and self-reflection, I found my academic home at Harvard.

I thought I had a pretty good sense of my life trajectory before coming to college. I knew I wanted to study the sciences and eventually go to medical school to become a doctor just like I had always dreamed. Now, I study Sociology, Educational Studies, and Arabic, and I completely love what I study. However, it was a long journey before I finally found what was right for me.

Three-and-a-half years ago, I applied to Harvard, gushing about my love for the sciences and my wish to study Biological Sciences to become a doctor. However, once I arrived, I did not take the typical premedical route. Instead, for my first semester, I took a General Education (GenEd) course on Equity and Excellence in K12 Education, a Freshman Seminar on Muslim literature, Expository Writing, and statistics.

You may be wondering, how did a premedical student end up taking zero science classes their first semester? You can take more science classes your first semester, but you can also explore before settling down. In fact, with my writing courses and statistics class, I was still well on my way to completing my prerequisites before graduation. With those same courses, I found my true academic love, even though I had not realized it at the time.

After happening upon my love for the social sciences and humanities, I mentally committed to concentrating in the History of Science or Psychology which would allow me the flexibility to study the sciences while incorporating other fields. After some time taking science classes my first-year spring, I decided that premedical studies were not for me, and though I loved the sciences, I did not want to commit the rest of my time here to that field. 

Physical Sciences 11 lecture demonstration in an auditorium

Physical Sciences 11 lecture

A snapshot of my Physical Sciences 11 lecture

Incorporating the interests I developed in my GenEd course on education and Arabic classes, I finally (not really) came to a decision. By the end of my sophomore fall—the typical deadline to declare your concentration (i.e. major)—, I became a joint concentrator in the History of Science and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations with a secondary (i.e. minor) in Educational Studies.

I could go further in detail about where exactly I was going with that concentration, but the important part to note is that I quickly realized I was not in the right place (for me). I wanted to study education inequality and societies and was drawn to classes that were in neither of my concentrations at the time. I saw courses in Sociology that interested me, though I had never taken a sociology class before. However, after speaking with advisors and peers, a week before my sophomore spring semester, I took the plunge to concentrate in Sociology instead.

Maybe I was lucky, and I was just in the right headspace at the right time, but, in the end, I could not be happier with my decision to switch. Just so you know, this is not an effort to disparage the academic paths that I did not pursue; on the contrary, I still love those subjects and appreciate those who love them. What you should take away from this is that it is okay to be undecided, to change your mind about your interests, and to take your time with it.

If you couldn’t tell from my 500+ word stream of consciousness, you can be undecided when you arrive at Harvard, and for a while after that. You do not need to pick a concentration until the end of your sophomore fall, which gives you three full semesters to explore your academic interests. The last thing that you should do is put pressure on yourself to finalize what you will do for four years in the first few weeks that you are here. Even if you know what you want to study, take classes that intrigue you but might not necessarily fall under your “overarching” interests. Chances are, you’ll find an academic field you fall in love with, and it might become a bigger part of your life than you originally thought.

Now, one of the best (but not only) ways to explore while being risk-averse is to take General Education courses and Freshman Seminars. Before you graduate, you must take four General Education courses, so you might as well explore your interests while fulfilling your graduation requirements. Also, some freshman seminar courses can count as electives for your concentration or secondary. If not, they can be a great opportunity to get to know a professor and become a part of a small academic community of other first-year students who share your interests.

In short, give your interests a chance. Do not, and I can not stress this enough, do NOT be afraid to explore. People will tell you that time here will fly, and it’s true, but you also have 4 years (or 8 semesters or around 32 courses) to explore potential academic and extracurricular paths. Do not let your decisions or your indecisiveness intimidate you into limiting your exploration. You never know what you might find.

Aisha Abdelhamid Class of '23

Hey y'all! My name is Aisha and I am an Egyptian from Long Island, NY. I am currently a junior in Leverett House, concentrating in Sociology with a secondary in Educational Studies and a citation in Arabic.

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