GUEST Post by Professor Alissa Vaillancourt: “Choosing a Major”

Below is a guest post by Classics Professor and Academic Advisor Alissa Vaillancourt. With the Registration Period about to begin, this post raises great questions for undeclared students in the process of deciding upon their Spring course schedule!

For those of you about to declare, this time is your kairos, which, in Greek means an opportunity – a critical point in time that provides focus and further definition.  So what are you going to major in?  It’s up to you to decide your passion…

When I first enrolled as an undergraduate student, I entered with a concentration in Pre-Medicine.  I was convinced that I wanted to be a doctor, but I knew I still had to pick a major….so my family and friends would ask –

“What are you going to major in?”

I didn’t enjoy biology or chemistry that much, and I knew also that I loved to travel and I loved learning the roots of things – words, customs, traditions.  I had placed out of a language requirement, but I decided to take Latin again out of an interest of mine – I loved learning about ancient Rome, and, I loved the poet we were reading in class – that pitiable Catullus.  My Latin professor at the time gave the best piece of advice about reading I had received, since until that point I had spent so much time focused on achievement, rather than enjoying the work that I was doing.  She said,

“You should not think about reading Catullus as an assignment, but as a leisure activity—like the kind of thing you pick up to enjoy as you sip your drink and smoke your pipe by the fire.”

Still, I was pre-med and so I took the advice with a grain of salt.  Upon meeting our Latin class, the head of the Classics Department said, “If you enjoy Latin, why not major in it while concentrating in Pre-Medicine?”  So I declared Classics.

Throughout my time as an undergraduate student, I was confronted with the following dialogue –


Like Socrates, I thought it best to admit that I didn’t know, so I thought, “maybe it’s better to major in a science to be successful in Medicine?”

So I sifted through some information, and found out this about Classics majors, according to the Princeton Review—

(1) “According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, students who major or double-major in Classics have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of science.”

(2) “Classics majors (and math majors) have highest success rates of any other major in law school.”

(3)  “Classics majors consistently have some of the highest scores on GREs of all undergraduates.”

I came to find out that Classics majors seek to completely master grammar, Medical terminology, legal terminology, excellent communication skills and analytical skills; Classics courses train students to develop an intense rigor for learning to focus on the minutiae of intricate pieces of data, yet also with goal toward appreciating the overall picture of language and culture of the ancient world, that helps us understand the complexities of the modern world, both bit by bit and as a whole.

In the end, I developed pride in my Classics major – firstly because I learned it was a great major, but also because I knew I was doing something I enjoyed, was good at, and felt confident about.  Now, I am a professor of Classics.

So, what’s your major?  What’s your passion?  Your undergraduate career may be your last opportunity to pursue something you may know a little about already, or nothing at all, but that something may trigger an enduring passion that you’ll have for the rest of your life, regardless of the career you pursue.

              – Professor Alissa Vaillancourt