Step #2: Evaluate your Interests

In addition to your First-Year Seminar, foreign language, and possibly a lab course, your first semester is a time to pursue and explore your academic interests. Dickinson offers more than 40 academic majors and programs! Choosing among them is a process that will require some careful thought. Because you’re making choices about your own interests and priorities, the process should also be fun!

REFLECT & ENGAGE

How should you begin choosing courses for your first semester? By reflecting on your experiences and goals before engaging with the information and people available to help you make decisions.

Are you a worksheet-oriented person? Many students find this worksheet helpful as they clarify a sense of academic purpose. 

To get started, pick the path that describes you best. Each offers specific, appropriate guidance.

I want to spend my semester
exploring my interests as widely as possible

 I'm considering 2-4 specific
fields of study
I already know exactly what I
want to study

I WANT TO EXPLORE MY ACADEMIC INTERESTS AS WIDELY AS POSSIBLE.

You’re coming to Dickinson, and you want to explore your academic interests as widely as possible. This is exciting! The opportunity for such exploration is a key feature of your liberal arts education. Dickinson’s curriculum—the totality of our courses, programs and requirements—is designed both to allow you to survey your options and to make sure that you find your way. Getting started is straightforward: reflect on your interests and priorities, evaluate the results, browse Dickinson's programs and departments, and then ask yourself what looks interesting and why.

As you probably know, Dickinson’s curriculum embodies our longstanding commitment to the liberal arts by combining breadth and depth. This tradition means that you will have opportunities both to explore a variety of fields as well as to earn mastery in a particular area. To gain breadth, you’ll take about half your courses in a range of fields that expose you to different perspectives or “ways of knowing.” To gain depth, you’ll take roughly half your courses in a particular area that will enable you to develop specialized expertise. One of the many benefits of the combination of breadth and depth is that you will gain a rich repertoire of problem-solving skills. After you graduate, you may end up using a degree in English to pursue a career on Wall Street, or you may end up using a degree in economics to open a fine-arts gallery. (Dickinsonians have done both!)

The key right now is to focus on developing your authentic interests, and these are likely to evolve as you move forward. Students who arrive knowing that they want to explore often find that the biggest challenge is to make sense of the 40+ academic programs we have to offer so you can find the best fit for yourself. Here, we’ll offer two practical suggestions and one (emphatic!) philosophical point. First, the pragmatic:

1. Whether you find it helpful to visualize future goals (such as developing your quantitative reasoning skills or learning a new foreign language) or to analyze past experiences (your favorite courses in high school, for example, or perhaps a life-changing volunteer opportunity) ask yourself why. Why did you find a particular course or project so interesting? Why do you imagine that you’ll find a particular goal to be especially fulfilling?

2. Look for patterns and use them to brainstorm as you explore our programs of study. Are you most curious about how and why people organize themselves? Maybe you should investigate a social science like history, international studies or political science. Are you most curious about literature and other forms of cultural production? Maybe you should explore fields in the arts and humanities like anthropology, French or art history. Like to design experiments and fascinated by the natural world?  You probably want to consider programs in the natural sciences, like biology, chemistry or earth science.  To get an overview of a particular department, we recommend that you check out its home page, its “Advising Guide,” and a few course descriptions from its “Curriculum and Courses” page, but please don’t imagine that you have to master all this information right now or on your own. Instead, just pay attention to the ideas and possibilities that you find most compelling. (Note that not all courses listed on the “Curriculum and Courses” page are offered every semester; we’ll say more about this when you’re ready to identify specific courses.)

Next, the philosophical: As long as you’re developing thoughtful questions, you don’t need to have all the answers. Not only does a liberal-arts education give you the chance to explore and to make choices, but exploring and making choices is a key part of a liberal-arts education. Because we’re committed to breadth and depth, choosing to explore is a very, very good decision.

ACTION ITEMS: 

  1. Reflect about your interests and priorities
  2. Evaluate the results: do you see patterns?
  3. Browse our programs and departments: which ones look interesting?
  4. Ask yourself “why”: Why do you find some possibilities compelling? Why do you find others less interesting?

All set? On to Step #3: Identify Courses and Organize a Possible Schedule

I AM CHOOSING AMONG 2-4 POSSIBLE INTERESTS.

You’re coming to Dickinson, and you’ve identified a small handful of leading interests. This is good! A liberal-arts education allows you to experience a variety of fields as you work towards a decision about your eventual area(s) of specialty by declaring a major. We expect that this process will take up to four semesters, so you have plenty of time.  What’s more, Dickinson’s curriculum—the totality of our courses, programs and requirements—will call on you to continue to engage with different fields even after you choose an academic department that fits you best. 

As you probably know, Dickinson’s curriculum embodies our longstanding commitment to the liberal arts by combining breadth and depth. This tradition means that you will have opportunities both to explore a variety of fields as well as to earn mastery in a particular area. To gain breadth, you’ll take about half your courses in a variety of fields that expose you to different perspectives or “ways of knowing.” To gain depth, you’ll take roughly half your courses in a particular area that will enable you to develop specialized expertise. One of the many benefits of the combination of breadth and depth is that you will gain a rich repertoire of problem-solving skills. After you graduate, you may end up using a degree in English to pursue a career on Wall Street, or you may end up using a degree in economics to open a fine-arts gallery. (Dickinsonians have done both!) 

The key right now is to focus on developing your authentic interests and on making strategic choices.  Because you have already winnowed our 40+ programs down to a list of some 2-4 possibilities, we recommend that you take a pragmatic and schematic approach to requesting your courses.  

  • First, please be sure to familiarize yourself with the departments on your list rather than relying only on your experience in high school. For example, just because American Government was your favorite course last year, you shouldn’t assume that political science will be your field of specialty. What about International Studies, History, Economics or Policy Management, for example? Dickinson may offer a wider array of choices than you realize. The programs of study page links to departmental home pages.  
  • Next, once you’re satisfied that you’ve found the programs that hold the greatest interest for you, have a look at the Advising Guide page on the department’s website and make a list of the courses recommended for FY students in the “Courses Appropriate for Prospective Majors” section and/or the “Suggested Curricular Flow through the Major” section.
  • Repeat these steps for each field you’re considering.
  • Once you have lists for each of the 2-4 departments in which you’re interested, look for courses that appear more than once. For example, comparing the departmental recommendations in economics, political science and international studies reveals that the combination of Economics 111 and Political Science 170 will provide a good, strategic introduction to all three fields.
International Studies  Economics  Political Science

INST/POSC 170, International Relations is the best point of entry into the major 

ECON 111, Introduction to Microeconomics and ECON 112, Introduction to Macroeconomics, should also be taken early 

 

ECON 111, Intro to Microeconomics is the preferred entry level course for the major or minor 

POSC 120, American Government

POSC 150, Comparative Politics

POSC 170, International Relations 

  • Now for the most critical step: ask yourself again whether these courses look interesting to you!  Many (many, many) years of experience have taught us that your level of engagement with your courses will be extremely important to both your academic success and to the overall quality of your first year at Dickinson.  

Please give your level of interest serious thought.  Whether you find it helpful to analyze past experiences (your favorite courses in high school, for example, or a life-changing volunteer opportunity) or to visualize future goals (such as developing your quantitative reasoning skills or learning a new foreign language) ask yourself why. Why did you find a particular course or project so interesting? Why do you imagine that you’ll find a particular goal to be especially fulfilling? 

Now you're ready to identify courses that fit your interests and priorities! On to Step #3: Identify Courses and Organize a Possible Schedule

I ALREADY KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO STUDY.

You’re coming to Dickinson, and you’ve already figured out exactly what you want to study. Congratulations! Many years of experience have taught us that your interest, commitment and energy will be among the greatest factors in a fulfilling, successful college experience.

As you probably know, Dickinson’s curriculum embodies our longstanding commitment to the liberal arts by combining breadth and depth. This tradition means that you will have opportunities both to explore a variety of fields as well as to earn mastery in a particular area. To gain breadth, you’ll take about half your courses in a variety of fields that expose you to different perspectives or “ways of knowing.” To gain depth, you’ll take roughly half your courses in a particular area that will enable you to develop specialized expertise. One of the many benefits of the combination of breadth and depth is that you will gain a rich repertoire of problem-solving skills. After you graduate, you may end up using a degree in English to pursue a career on Wall Street, or you may end up using a degree in economics to open a fine-arts gallery. (Dickinsonians have done both!) 

If you already think you know your major, the process of selecting courses is fairly straightforward.   In addition, you should give some thought to some very important, fundamental questions.

  • How do you know that you’ve found a major that’s the right fit for you? There’s no one right answer, but you should be able to answer this question for yourself!
  • Why do you think the major you have identified is going to be intellectually fulfilling? The only wrong answer is…not having an answer!
  • How does the major you have identified relate to your personal, professional, or civic priorities? It’s OK if the answer is that you haven’t (yet) identified any obvious points of correspondence!  But you should think about this question throughout your time at the Ccollege.

Next—and you’ve quite likely done this already—please double-check that Dickinson’s major matches your recollections and/or expectations by visiting the department's site. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve found the program that hold the greatest interest for you, have a look at the Advising Guide on the department’s website and make a list of the courses recommended for FY students in the “Courses Appropriate for Prospective Majors” section and/or the “Suggested Curricular Flow through the Major” section. Because you are already confident in your area of interest, the “Suggested Flow through the Major” section will be especially important.  (Note that not all courses listed on the “Curriculum and Courses” page are offered every semester.)

Have you reviewed the department website?  Are you as intrigued and excited as ever? Your next step is to identify courses that fit your interests and priorities!

No matter what, ask yourself the most important question one more time: does this program of study look interesting to you?  

All set? On to Step #3: Identify Courses and Organize a Possible Schedule