Fortunately, the answer fell into my lap. I spent the summer writing articles and researching the presidential election for a political/cultural news start-up and, to my pleasant surprise, I loved it. I was fascinated by the rhetoric surrounding the issues and the meticulously crafted speeches that can make or break a candidate. I realized I could do that with a degree in English. Moreover, I wanted to do that. I was convinced that a degree in English and a certificate in politics would be my ticket to Capitol Hill.
There was only one problem with this spontaneous plan. There is no politics certificate. And when I asked the Princeton administration if I could create my own certificate program within the department, the answer was a kindly worded “No.”
This isn’t to say that there were no alternatives. My director of studies helpfully recommended that I take several classes in politics so that I may include them on my resume, thereby demonstrating my interest in the subject. I don’t deny that this is a worthwhile option. In fact, I met a Princeton history major this summer who was hired as a financial adviser after referring to the many accounting and economics classes he took alongside his degree. But, nonetheless, I found myself wanting that certificate.
My main defense of the certificate was, first of all, that it would increase my job prospects; an English degree combined with a particular certified breadth of knowledge should be more marketable than an English major alone. Secondly, I’d be able to join a department and work closely with faculty dedicated to my particular interest in politics.
But I’ve come to realize there is an underlying reason of which I’m not proud. I want the piece of paper. I want the recognition that I did more than was asked of me. When people ask me what my major is I can respond, “English with a certificate in politics,” which just sounds more impressive than an English major alone. In this community seemingly full of overachievers, stellar athletes and exceptional geniuses, I want to feel like I measure up. And that’s a pretty pathetic reason to want a certificate.
This column began as a call for more certificate options and, while this is still my hope, I no longer feel the need to demand the change because such demands shouldn’t be fueled by an “I’m not a slacker, I swear” attitude. Princeton is undoubtedly a cornucopia of high-achieving and impressive students. Some pursue certificates, others do not. Those that do not are no less impressive than those that do. I got caught up in a fabricated image of an academic hierarchy, a much too easy trap in which to fall as the year gets under way.
In the end if I can point to a strong background in politics and prove that I am right for a certain job based on that knowledge, a piece of paper shouldn’t matter all that much. If I show that I pursued a passion, despite the lack of a structured curriculum, I will display a drive that may look as good as dedication to a second department. I do wish I could pursue a certificate and have the utmost respect for those that have found their passion in the current certificate program. However, being unable to do exactly what I wanted provided a much needed reality check and, perhaps, every once and a while that’s exactly what we need in this Orange Bubble.
Chelsea Jones is a sophomore from Ridgefield, Conn. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/11/08/31734/