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I’m currently deciding between majoring in computer science or majoring in cognitive science and minoring in computer science. Looking at the list of courses I need take to get a computer science degree, I see a bunch of courses I’m not interested in. However, a computer science degree will put me in a better position to land software engineering internships and jobs. There are still a few courses in the cognitive science degree I will have to take which I’m not interested in, but far fewer. And, I can take the upper-division computer science courses I do want to take to satisfy a few cognitive science requirements and count towards a computer science minor.

I’m deciding between doing more things I dislike doing, with the promise of a better future, or doing more things I like doing, with a potentially worse future. I’ve come across this situation before. When picking classes in high school, I always wanted to take programming and graphic design. Two ‘elective’ classes. Most people just take one, if any, electives per year. To make this happen, I would have to drop an ‘academic’ class, so I skipped history junior year and skipped Spanish senior year. This made me a less competitive college applicant. I would’ve taken AP US History and Honors Spanish, which would’ve been a significant GPA boost. Graphic Design and Programming, because there were ‘elective’ classes, so they didn’t give me any GPA boost. I decided to put myself in a worse position from a college application perspective, which many people would consider a worse position for life overall.

Does taking two elective classes make me the kid who eats the marshmallow right away instead of waiting 15 minutes to get two marshmallow? No. It makes me the kid who never wanted a marshmallow in the first place. If I followed the typical track of checking boxes for college admissions, I would end up going to a great university, but probably wouldn’t have the awareness to realize that I like a specific aspect of computing (HCI). How many people spend their high school years min-maxing their college application, go to college for premed, then realize they hate it?

If you major in something you don’t really like, then get a job doing something you don’t really like, you are building a resume which is only going to help you get jobs you don’t really want. It might be harder to follow your interests, but it also might be worth it. As Thoreau says, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Is it worth deviating from the track in order to escape a life of quiet desperation, even if that means it might be difficult?

Steve Jobs, in his commencement speech at Stanford, said:

“The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked far more interesting… And much of what I stumbled into, by following curiosity and intuition, turned out to be priceless later on… Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life karma, whatever — because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Once again, I’m choosing to trust my gut, and hoping the dots will connect.

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