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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Going against the grain: What’s underneath the unique majors offered at Tufts?

Students reflect on their experiences pursuing lesser known majors.

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Lincoln Filene Center in winter.

Aside from “What’s your name?” and “What year are you?” one of the most common questions you’ll hear in introductions on a college campus is “What’s your major?” Indeed, a student’s major plays a … well, major role in shaping their identity and experiences throughout college.

At Tufts, some of the most common answers to this question are international relations, biology and psychology. But what about the students who are studying majors that you don’t often come across? How does their experience differ from that of someone pursuing a more popular major?

For sophomore Caroline Koon, who is majoring in ancient world studies as well as international relations, the ancient world studies major has greatly contributed to her unique experience at Tufts.

“It’s a great group of people and the professors really love what they do, so the classes are always engaging. They’re always super fun,” said Koon. “I think that between it being a more unconventional major and it being humanities, which I feel like tends to have smaller classes, it's a really good mix of people who end up taking [the ancient world studies] classes and participating.”

Although less common majors like ancient world studies have benefits such as smaller classes and higher in-class engagement, Koon noted some challenges that come with the major.

“In terms of opportunities, I think especially compared to other schools … I look at their websites, [and I notice] they've got classics or ancient world studies study abroad programs, or they've got a bunch of information about scholarships and fellowships,” she said.“I do wish that there was a little bit more support [at Tufts], outside of the classroom in more of a casual or pre-professional way.”

From an academic standpoint, Koon highlighted the importance of the resources that Tufts provides to all students, regardless of their major.

“Writing is writing, and so for a lot of classes, it doesn't necessarily matter if you're writing about something that happened 3,000 years ago. Any StAAR Center writing tutor can help you revise and edit. So in terms of academic resources, I’d say [Tufts does a] pretty good job,” she said.

This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Katherine Swimm, senior associate director of academic support at the StAAR Center.

In an email to the Daily, Swimm noted the wide reach of the StAAR Center’s resources.

“We provide writing support for any writing project … in any class and in any major. We also provide academic success coaching, and the skills learned there (work/life balance, time management, reading and notetaking, study skills) can be applied to any area of study,” she wrote in an email to the Daily. “The StAAR Center will work with any student to figure out what support will be most useful to them, no matter their major  it’s a very individualized experience.”

For Jungmin Lee, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration on media, culture and identity, the writing support that Tufts offers for students is extremely helpful for her work.

“I have personally never used the subject-based tutoring services, mainly because I feel like those are pretty much STEM or language focused … but I do find the writing fellows and the graduate writing consultants really helpful for what I’m studying,” she said.

Lee highlighted the importance of connecting with professors and classmates when pursuing a less common major.

“I think especially for social sciences or humanities majors, I would say the professors and classmates are usually the best resources that we could ask for, so just going to their office hours or talking to your classmates are often the best resources [available],” she said.

Koon had similar thoughts about using professors as a resource.

“The classics faculty at Tufts, they’re some of the best professors I’ve had so far, and they're more than willing to talk to you about what summer opportunities there might be or more unconventional ways in which you could explore the subject matter, or sort of get involved and get connected,” she said.

Swimm noted that even for subjects the StAAR Center’s tutoring program doesn’t specifically cover, it is still worth utilizing the StAAR Center for help.

“Our peer tutoring program provides support that’s specific to introductory and intermediate undergraduate courses, so there are some courses that do not have assigned StAAR tutors.  For any student who needs extra support and is not sure [of] the best next step, they should reach out to StAAR … we can meet and talk with a student about how they’re struggling,” she wrote.

Despite some of the difficulties that come with a less common major, both Koon and Lee stressed the benefits that come with more niche areas of study, both on an individual level and on a university-wide level.

“Compared to other schools, I feel like, as a student, I’m in an environment where I feel comfortable and confident to express what I’m interested in, and I feel confident to find the resources [that I need] and talk to the professors who bring all their academic and professional interests in those fields,” Lee said.

Lee also mentioned how students’ unique academic interests affect the environment at Tufts as a whole.

“One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Tufts was … I felt like there was an academic diversity at Tufts … I feel like I’ve met so many people at Tufts who genuinely have all these cool and niche passions that I think are often not as common in college settings,” she said.

Koon agreed with the importance of having students with uncommon interests, and encouraged students to take academic risks.

“If you’re interested, you should definitely explore the options because a lot of the time, professors are willing to work with you on this. More particularly, for ancient world studies … it's a really encompassing major, so it is easier than you think to tick off the major requirements, and it's actually pretty interdisciplinary in the nature of the degree,” Koon said. “Just because other people [like] your friends might not be studying [a certain major] doesn't diminish the value that you might get from studying it, so I would say go for it if you're remotely curious.”

Although it may seem intimidating to choose an uncommon major, Lee advised students who are considering the interdisciplinary studies major to be proactive. She emphasized that pursuing a niche major is possible for any student who is interested. 

“You do have the motivation in you, you just have to talk to the right people,” she said. “It's not as challenging or as difficult as it might seem.”