BY CAITLIN LYNCH ’20 AND HELEN ELDRED ’20
“Most majors will tell you that you only end up in this major if you really, truly love it,” said theater major Miranda Wheeler ’19. Although all majors require students to be dedicated, the application of their commitment varies across departments. A significant factor influencing each student’s Mount Holyoke experience is the type of work their major demands.
Many math majors report having a constant stream of assessments that require them to understand complex material. Rachel Bostick ’20, a student liaison for the mathematics and statistics department, said that “Being able to really understand lecture material to then apply these ideas to homework [and] problem sets can be very difficult.” In regards to her workload, student liaison Eisha Khan ’18 said, “As a math major you have a lot going on. Not only do you have to solve problem sets every week, but you also have quizzes every week for many of the classes.”
In contrast to the frequent assessments and problem sets required from math majors, social science majors are faced with long readings and the challenges of essay writing. Critical social thought department student liaison Becca Mullen ’18 said they spent most of their time on readings and essays. As philosophy major Imara White ’19 said, “Stress is pretty low until the week a paper is due, then stress gets pretty high.” This experience and workload is common among social science majors.
A significant challenge for some majors is the scope of material they’re expected to master. Astronomy department student liaison Tricia Chaffey ’18 said, “The greatest source of stress is that, being such an interdisciplinary major, it’s really easy to feel like you need to keep studying everything in order to understand all the topics you cover — you see everything from physics, chemistry, geology, etc.”
For studio art majors, much of their work is process-driven. Studio art major Renea Toni Burke ’18 said, “I spent 13 hours once on a particular project, just because I wanted the materials to form in a particular way. It took multiple tries before I figured out the right combination.”
The repetition and experimentation in the art department is comparable to the rehearsal required by the dance department. Dance major Helena Valvur ’18 said, “Because dance is a practice-based study, a lot of work is done in class, particularly technique classes.” In addition to technique, dance majors also study theory. The work of these courses takes “the form of essays or mini research projects which culminate in short, in-class presentations,” said Valvur.
Despite engaging in dramatically different types of work, students across majors also expressed similar challenges, one of which being the challenge to learn everything they’re expected to.
“The greatest source of stress is probably the tension between wanting to learn [and] understand everything and wanting to turn things in on time,” said Mullen.
“I think the biggest source of stress in [the] major is feeling like [I] don’t measure up somehow,” said White. “Readings can be really difficult to understand and it can appear as though everyone but [me] gets it.”