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MIT student blogger Shannon M. '12

Decide my major! by Shannon M. '12

Because putting your future up for a democratic vote is clearly the way to go.

Alright, you and I both have some big decisions to make in the next month. You all need to decide where you’re going to college next year (COUGHMITCOUGH), which, I mean, is a kind of a big deal and will in fact influence the rest of your life. No pressure or anything. I will weigh in with how best to make this decision post-CPW when you’ve formed your own opinions on how awesome MIT is.

But that’s old news to me, because it seriously feels like I was a senior a decade ago. I was burning time on facebook the other day going through high school pictures and was like, “wow, that was not a good hair d- was that just last year? THAT WAS LAST YEAR?” And I suddenly felt very old.

To add to this, I have to declare a major by April 17th. Yes, that means that while you’re all on campus not sleeping and eating more sugar than you’ve consumed ever and figuring out how you will fit your 7 free t-shirts back into your luggage post-CPW, I will be declaring what I tentatively want to do with my life.

This is terrifying. I have ~54% no idea what I want to with my life. Last week, I pretended I was a mechanical engineer, and it was pretty fun, but then I realized I didn’t actually want to engineer things forever. I was course 7 and 18 for about two weeks at the beginning of this year until MIT was like, “yo, Shannon, math is hard” and was like “whoa, you are definitely right” and promptly retreated from uber-1337 18.022 to the nice, cozy mathiness of 18.02. Currently, I’m telling people that I’m course 5, and I’m kind of liking it. It’s like dress up. Only… with… your life.

And this is where you come in. Decide my fate! Vote what major Shannon should choose next week when she meets with her advisor!


Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering)– So I’m in this class called “Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries,” which is incredible. I’m currently part of a team that’s working on a tricycle attachment for wheelchairs that will allow wheelchair users in Kenya (our current market) to travel the long distances (30 km, in some cases!) to work, a task made difficult by non-handicap accessible public transportation and current wheelchair designs. ANYWAYS. I really like getting my hands dirty and designing things. It’s pretty cool to look at a design and be like, “I made that. And it will change someone’s life.”

Like Fatuma, one of our partners in Uganda who came to visit and give us feedback on our designs:


My thoughts on majoring in MechE is that I would likely use it for biology or international development.

Course 5 (Chemistry)– My major du jour. I’m really enjoying being a pretend chemistry major. I LOVE 5.12, and I really like learning about biology from a chemical standpoint. I also took 5.112 in the fall, the hardest version of freshmen chemistry- it’s recommended for students with an “exceptionally strong background in chemistry,” which did not describe me AT ALL. But I was all “hey, I want a challenge, BRING IT.” And it did bring it. I quite literally failed the first exam (the ranges were A, B, C, Cause for Concern, and In Trouble, and yours truly made the honorable last category), but I was actually doing really well by the end and ended up learning a ton from the class. Best and worst decision I have made at MIT.


I like chemistry, which is funny, because I abhorred chem in high school. However, these shirts alone might just be enough to sway me 5. AND we get them for free when we declare.

Course 7 (Biology)– I came in as a hard-core Biology major. And when I mean hardcore, I mean there-is-no-way-I-will-ever-consider-anything-else hardcore. I had done Bio research in high school, had done the USABO, the whole works. It was my thing. As in, this was my response to the “what major do you want to be?” question:

I blame my love of biology on my feet.

Looking for something “alive, or that had been living” around my house, my 1st grade self sat down, peeled some dead skin off my foot, and brought it into school the next day to look at under a microscope. Watching my very own cells come into focus, I fell in love with a world outside my field of view.

A first grade amazement turned into a middle school obsession with enzymes, and by high school had morphed into an interest so deep that introductory college textbooks were far too broad for my interests. I began pouring through research journals and found myself happily studying transcription factors the summer after junior year, once working in lab everyday for over 4 weeks straight. I’d wake up every morning excited to leave my dorm, and would come home to argue the merits of biology versus chemistry with my dorm mates and sit in the lounge until late at night reading the latest scientific literature.

I’ve been a Course 7 major since the age of 6- who said young love never lasts?

Hardcore. I told you. Realistically, I still want to do bio research after I graduate- which path I want to take to that is an entirely different matter. (hence the having 5 options for my potential major)

Course 10B (Chemical Engineering with biology)– Like 5, only more engineering and biology- this is looking like a good way to potentially mesh the two.

Course 20 (Biological Engineering)– Now, this seems like the logical choice given all the above, but freshmen can’t actually declare course 20- you have to apply sophomore year, and acceptance to the program is based on your completion of the prereqs to that point. But we’ll include this in the voting, because if I’m going to go course 20, I should know sooner than later.

Alright, so here’s the ballot. Feel free to add your comments and/or lobby for your choice of major in the comments. If you offer to bring me cookies at CPW, I may or may not lend more credence to your vote*.

*Emphasis on the may not.

83 responses to “Decide my major!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You’re no hardcore Biology major if your “there-is-no-way-I-will-ever-consider-anything-else” perspective wanes even a little.


  2. Anna says:

    Personally, I would prefer Course 5. I love Chem. But 10B would be so awesome. Then Course 2. That’s just my opinion since I love all those three. Good luck in your decision!

  3. Cody Dean says:

    Nice post…..hard choice though! :D

  4. Capo says:


    Kevin and I would like to express our disappointment that you are not going into mathematics to pursue pure mathematics and that you did not even mention physics.

    Given the choices, go with course 5 – the t-shirts totally seal the deal. Plus you can grow up to be like Billings smile

  5. Oasis '11 says:

    10B is like the hardcore version of 7. If you can survive the initial core 10 classes, then go for 10B over 7. (granted, you need to like engineering too).

    20 is….meh. I don’t understand what the big hype that the bioeng department is trying to create around 20 (by having classes like 20.020 and not letting you declare till soph year – granted, there must be a better reason than this). i feel like so many people start out with 20 and then drop to something else, though.

    5 is hardcore in its own right.

    and 2 is meh – overpopulated. but i must say that if you choose the right track for 2, 2 can be a very versatile major that you can combine with all kind of cool stuff like ID.

    i chose 7 because 1) i like the versatility of not having too many requirements, because this allows me to take classes in 14, 21F (which I’m seriously thinking of double majoring now), and random classes like 4.601. also, 2) being “mit hardcore” is overrated. :D

    (and PSH to all the people who say bio isn’t hardcore. it might not be like “engineering,” but it isn’t easy either!)

    oh though if you choose 7 (or actually it applies to 10B and 20 and 2A (to a lesser extent)), prepare to have fun with a lot of premeds =p

  6. Anonymous says:

    either way, sounds like you’ll enjoy 5.08J

  7. Anonymous says:

    also, i hear people say 20 doesn’t know what it’s teaching, but that might actually be good if you’re looking for something interdisciplinary

  8. Snively says:


    MEH!? MEH!?!?!?

    Dude, 2 is where it’s at. Overpopulated with awesome!

  9. Kim '13 says:

    10B! 10B! Because Chem + Bio + Engineering = Awesome!

  10. Narce says:

    Go for Course 23!


  11. may says:


  12. Wendi Z says:

    Shannon we need to talk! I have some thoughts I want to share. =)

  13. Shannon says:

    @Capo- We are conveniently NEVER GOING TO MENTION to Billings the possibility of my going into Chemistry. I will not give him that satisfaction.

    (Capo and I went to high school together, for those of you wondering what the hell we’re talking about.)

    Also, I am supremely impressed at the number of responses so far. There are a lot of you lurking out there, or else someone just really wants me to be course 20.

  14. Amy Zook '12 says:

    Wow, you sound a lot like me! I love 5.12 and am currently calling myself a Course 5 major, although I hated chem in high school! Imagine that!

    I was looking at 2 and 10 for a while too, but now I’m kind of leaning toward 3 (Materials Science), since it has way more actual chemistry content than the other engineering majors. 10 is really more thermodynamics and reactor engineering, I think. 3 is actually about making stuff with chemistry.

    Gahh! I can’t believe it’s already April!

  15. Piper '12 says:

    Actually, the Class of 2013 and on will be able to declare Course 20 as they can declare any other major.

    Course 20 is a new major, and the department wanted to be able to limit the number of students it took in because of lab space and such. Now that they have a good idea of how the years will go, they’ve decided to let others declare starting next year.

    @Shannon – Have you tried looking at the OCW materials on future classes? I was strongly debating between 20 and 7 until I really started looking at the classes and realized I found 7 much more interesting :D (And do you have any idea on what you want to do career-wise? That might help your decision. Also, if you’re interested in everything, you might want to go something with more elective space?)

  16. comboy says:

    when you’re on campus, look up and see stars. when you peel dead skin from you feet, look at your socks.
    you are capable of being an astronaut who makes her own space-suit. even if you’re using your own wheelchair

  17. jennyli '11 says:

    haha, I would have really voted for 6, but seeing as how that’s not an option, 2 is pretty cool too raspberry

  18. Judy '12 says:

    :O THERE’S NO COURSE 6??? I can’t vote on this…

  19. Benjamin says:

    What is up with the “cool beans” thing. My chem teacher says it all the time, and it drives me crazy.

  20. Elli says:

    COURSE 2
    you can’t get better

    you disappoint me Shannon
    shame and shun

  21. Anonymous says:

    Do what you love to do and your career will take care of itself.

  22. Luczek says:

    Way to put your life in the hands of a bunch of crazy geeks. We are the kind of people who defend what we want to do, and some of us may even condemn other majors. *shock*
    But yeah, 7 or 20. Regardless of Capo’s “pure mathematics” opinions, I would stick with bio of some sort. Way back when [oh, last year] when you were in research you pwned us all with your amazing skills and passion for the subject. I would stick with it, but hey, you’ll be amazing at anything in my mind, you’re Shannon.

  23. juliet says:

    take bio major Shannon.
    atleast the pre reqs for bio.

  24. Anonymous says:

    May one double-major at MIT?

  25. I just switched from 10B to 5 (hence the added year). I, like you, came in as hard-core Bio, learned that I’m actually pretty good at Chemistry in 5.12, thought 10B would be a good blend. Nope. I learned I’m not an engineer. I should have listened to my stomach during 10.10 when I was doing these massive MATLAB assignments, just waiting to play with reaction mechanisms again. So, maybe, try out 10.10, and if you don’t feel right about it, probably best to try somethings else, because (at least for me) 10B didn’t change much after that.

  26. Anonymous says:

    You could also declare undeclared.

  27. Someone '15 says:

    In my view you are the only one who should choose. Don’t let others do.

  28. Matt '13 says:

    Yo Shannon, you should totally hit up course 7.

  29. Anonymous says:

    i hate all those choices…


    its a way of life

  30. Muz says:

    I voted for mech because, I love engineering. It’s got some nasty math at the beginning, but near the end, you reach enlightenment.. and all those years of math is like learning to write letters and words, with the engineering being the literature.

    But, you seem to be more towards bio. Well, why not? The world will never have too many good biologists (or engineers). Either is a good choice, with a good future smile

  31. Anonymous says:

    @ other anonymous
    Yes, you can double major

  32. Anon says:

    Course 2 has overtaken 5, despite my best efforts. This must be corrected.

  33. han says:

    why not double major??
    gl hf

  34. Latifah says:

    2, of course. Sheesh. raspberry I know a junior who was 7, then 20, then pursued 7 and 20-ish things under 2-A (and D lab) and is loving it. Sounds like you, tbh.

  35. Emilio '13 says:

    10B! Chemical engineering plus biology? Amazing. Haven’t even matriculated and I’m already interested.

  36. Kevin '12 says:

    Course 18 FTW!

    But science is cool too smile

    In all seriousness though, 20 seems like a good fit for what you want to do.

  37. Take 10B wink
    But reconsider your decision about MATH!
    And… Emil Cioran in his one book said, that asking for advice is the most dangerous thing, and every person must make decision single-handedly, because you and maybe 3-4 person really want to make you happy.

    And what I should do? Stay in Poland and become another brick in the wall, or try to get to MIT? Belive me, this is really hard. You know that you’re in all conscience good in math, physic, but leaving family? friends? go to alien place? English isn’t my language

  38. Take 10B wink
    But reconsider your decision about MATH!
    And… Emil Cioran in his one book said, that asking for advice is the most dangerous thing, and every person must make decision single-handedly, because you and maybe 3-4 person really want to make you happy.

    And what I should do? Stay in Poland and become another brick in the wall, or try to get to MIT? Belive me, this is really hard. You know that you’re in all conscience good in math, physic, but leaving family? friends? go to alien place? English isn’t my language, and I don’t know even if I’d deal with it.

    Good luck with your decision!

  39. Emilio '13 says:

    I agree with han: double major! :D

  40. JonTec '13 says:

    Personally, I’d go with 20. If I were (more) interested in biology, that’s probably where I’d be:
    “The innovative educational programs created by BE reflect this emphasis on integrating molecular and cellular biosciences with a quantitative, systems-oriented engineering analysis and synthesis approach…” (BE homepage)

    for the high-level chemistry (?) and systems-oriented engineering analysis–science with an objective. I like figuring out how things works so that I (or someone else) can exploit them for development.

    I have no idea how the requirements work at MIT, but I’d try for some of the prereqs for 20 in either 7 or 10B (if that makes a full year). Would you be happy in 7 or 10B for undergrad, then using graduate school to pursue course 20?

  41. JonTec '13 says:

    [Just voted] lol. I think your counts have been skewed by over-zealous course 2 fanatics. Virtually nothing you’ve said seems to indicate that direction.

  42. Steph says:


    Or, you know, not. I’m very seriously considering a double in 10B now, because Chem is kind of awesome (oh, my first love. swoon-sigh) and it shouldn’t be that difficult load-wise.

    1. Course 7 does not have free t-shirts.
    2. Haha your poll is kind of ridiculous. Did you really get over 1000 votes? I’m thinking someone might be messing with it (VS style).
    3. Course 2 is pretty cool, not going to lie. If I liked physics at all I would be thrilled to trade my micropipette in for a screwdriver.

    P.S. COURSE 7.

  43. Anon says:

    Question– what kinds of majors can (or usually) get UROPs in the Media Lab?

    Also, is course 2 really that overpopulated? :| As in, is it one of those generic everyone-does-it-so-it’s-not-that-great majors?

  44. Anonymous says:

    Why didn’t course 18 make it onto the ballot? ;_;

  45. Anonymous says:

    Why didn’t course 18 make it onto the ballot? ;_;

  46. Anonymous says:

    Uhh, Course 7 has free t-shirts. You just need to know where to look (or more specifically, WHEN to look).

  47. Piper '12 says:

    Another note –

    Doing Course 20 basically gives you 7A (it requires you to use one elective class towards 7, if you pick your other ones right). You can ride the 20/7 line for a bit and then decide.

  48. Narce says:

    Was waiting for that one…. Didn’t want to say it myself since I already suggested 23.

  49. Rediet '13 says:

    10B! Do 10B! It seems like a perfect combination.

    Quick question, do HL IB classes count for credit?

  50. Old Mama says:

    Many moons ago, I faced the same choices. I opted for 10. After first semester sophomore year, with 10.13 and 10.301 under my belt, I realized I didn’t really like 10. I had done 10 as a way to do 7 when I really loved 7. Meanwhile I had taken a 21 every semester for sanity. So I switched to 7, and realized with the extra courses and my AP scores, I had lots of units, and double majored 7/21.


    Go 7 and have fun.

  51. Sammy says:

    It really irks me when people who have know idea what they want to do with their lives attend college. Yeah, it is awesome that you are attending you dream school, but realistically, you took a seat away from a potential student who knows what they want to major in and what they would like to do for career.

  52. Piper '12 says:

    College is all about figuring out who you are and what you want to do. MIT admits people who have no idea what they want to major in (It sounds like Shannon probably put biology down, but I know people who literally had “I don’t know” on their application). It’s not a flaw.

    Realistically, most students change their majors and even career plans anyway.

  53. Shannon says:

    Re: Double majors- Yes, you can double major at MIT, but you can’t declare a double major as a freshman.

    Re: HL IB credit- Depends on the test, I believe. The website with credit info for 2013 should be up shortly?

    Re: Knowing what you’re doing with your life- I DID know what I wanted to major in and what I wanted to do for a career. Did you read the essay? Things change. Life happens. You will not be the same person this time next year that you are now, regardless of where you go to school. If you are, you’re doing something wrong.

  54. Sammy says:

    @Piper ’12,

    Yes, it is common for students to have no idea what they want to major in let alone do for a career and the majority of college students are going to change their minds at some point after graduation, but for every student who is still up in the air over a major there is at least one other who has a clear idea of what they want. I just think that if you are not sure, then you should wait awhile before you take on college.

    I already graduated from college and I am looking at grad schools (one of which, of course, is MIT). One thing that I can tell you for sure is that you will not find out who you are or what you want to do until after college.

    I dunno, not trying to flame anyone. I just many students while in college who only seem to be taking up space, and taken space away from someone who had the desire to be there.

  55. Sammy says:


    Um, I am over caffeinated and fending off two cats who both seem to want to occupy my keyborad, so I admit that I was only responding to certain aspects of your post. Apologies.

    I had a similar epithany with feet at a young age, and I did end up majoring in biology, but it kind of lost its magic sometime after my fifth biology course.

    Chemistry, on the other hand, is totally awesome and while it completely ties in with biology it just sounds cooler.

    Excuse the typos in my last response.

  56. Claire '13 says:

    I definitely voted for 10B, the most hardcore of all.

  57. Liz says:

    I know I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life. Physicist, chemist, electrical engineer, history professor, journalist, lifelong Peace corps volunteer, someone who retrieves golf balls from water features on golf courses? I don’t think sitting at home and putting off college would help me decide among any of these choices, and I definitely disagree with your attitude (and also find it offensive) that you think people who don’t know what they want to do are “wasting space” on a college campus.

    I think it’s wonderful that Shannon is giving a good think to a big decision. smile

  58. Piper '12 says:

    @Sammy – Every single person I’ve known who’s been confused about majors is trying to decide between majors they find utterly fascinating. They aren’t “taking up space”, nor are they lacking in the desire to be here. Often times, they may even have the same career path in mind (I was considering 7, 20, 10B, 6, 5, and 9 – all with applications to biomedicine).

    Time off is a great thing, and I encourage people to do it. I don’t think being confused about your major mandates it by any means, though.

  59. Chris B. '12 says:

    You know you wanna be 7 or 5. 10B is just kinda ridic and 20 is overhyped. Though, just to confuse you more, If you are considering 2 to apply it to biology, look at the BME part of course 3, which is baller.

  60. Course 19!! wink wink nudge nudge

  61. MIT'14 says:

    DO not do this Shannon.
    It doest work.

  62. Kevin McVey says:

    Hey there Shannon!

    As a high school student, I cannot so much as come close to giving you a proper opinion on what to major in – I simply don’t know enough about the classes. But if you do happen to read through these responses and take the time to hear from an MIT hopeful on the other end of the Internet, I submit to you that what you are interested in now may not always be what you’re interested down the road. Go for something you feel is versatile and can be molded to match your not only now interests now, but also your interests years later when you look back and ask “why did I pick this?” No one major is better than any other and even if the connections between major and interest are vague, go for something you know has everything! Who says you can’t have it all?

    I personally am interested in course 2 more than any others, but I get the sense that you’d be mostly interested in 5 (I voted for that based upon this and the above). I wish you the best of luck in picking a major. Have fun, don’t stress too much!

  63. Kevin McVey says:

    Also, feel free to mix my glaring typo as you read that!

  64. Jean '13 says:

    Somebody totally voted 500 times for Course 2.

  65. Anonymous says:

    I say chem. If you have an interest in Bio I would say that chem gives you a different way of looking at life and life processes. Whatever YOU think is more important though.

  66. sam says:

    may d liu
    you are silly

  67. MIT '11 says:

    Course 2 hands down. lol…this is fun. Anyway, assuming you’ve talked to several upperclassmen, faculty, other college friends, etc., you probably have an idea of what every major has to offer. And really, nobody can tell you what you should do, since–well–there are so many different majors for a reason and everyone will tell you things differently. Your conceptions of each field may not change, so it’ll come down to just making a decision and sticking with it. Frankly, if you want to enter almost any field, sticking to any major you listed and going with it can get you there. The masters’ programs allow you to specify, and doing well in your undergraduate education will allow you to get to that masters’ program, unless you do something entirely unrelated.

    So I wouldn’t worry about it. Do what you think will keep you at least remotely interested when doing the schoolwork, satisfied with the choice, and able to apply your various interests to the field.

  68. Dear Madam,
    I am a Indian student,i would like to know the specific requirements/eligibility required for a freshman application to enter into an UG course(Aerospace Eng.) at MIT,USA.I have gone though the website and its respective links but could not find the specific educational requirements with respect to the education system in India that is the percentage,certificates,merits etc. required in 10+2.
    Kindly note my 10+2 results are expected during the months of May-June.
    Madam i request you to casually send me the details of the above in brief to my email: [email protected].
    I regret if i am likely to cause any problem.

    Thanking you,
    yours sincerely,
    Praneil Crasto.

  69. Anonymous says:

    @ Praneil
    There are no specific requirements.

  70. Anonymous says:

    Shannon, you have just given excellent proof that democracy does not work. Technocracy FTW. Read the comments, listen to your heart, just don’t mind the votes wink

  71. Alex '13 says:

    Id like to say that Course 10 is superior. Thats why only awesome people voted for course 10B.

  72. Tuxsvlib says:

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  73. Anonymous says:


    where are all the awesome majors?

  74. sunrise says:

    CLEARLY you were destined to be an ART major.
    like seriously people, could it not be ANY more obvious?!?

    but in all seriousness, I loved your piece about being hardcore bio. i was like o.mi.god…………… it was that good smile!

    MIT people are amazing.

  75. Opnaydqm says:

    Wonderfull great site “>mature hair styles wrxl

  76. For what it’s worth, Shannon, I vote for 10B as well. 20 is exciting, new, and truly interdisciplinary, but 10 is exciting and truly interdisciplinary, and has an established track record of providing great support to its majors. Thanks very much for stimulating a useful conversation. I look forward to seeing your choice.

  77. Uir√° says:

    I vote for 10B!!
    (even though the voting system is not working)

    Because Chemical Engineering is already enough for your choice (however that t-shirt of 5 is a temptation)

  78. Pedant says:


    Typo alert:

    You wrote: “I began pouring through research journals.”

    Just what were you pouring through those journals? (should be “poring”)

  79. Anonymous says:

    Why did you turn the form off? What’s your final decision?

  80. Anonymous says:

    as a course 10er, i would suggest you DO NOT go into 10B thinking you are going to learn a lot of bio ro chem. kkep in mind it is an engineering degree, so you will be doing a loot of “engineer-y” type stuff and not so much pure science.