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From p-sets to papers: a reflection on my path to Declaration Day

Section of stone building on cloudy day. Ivy covers sections of the building.
Outside view of McCosh Hall.
Ammaar Alam / The Daily Princetonian

On March 31, 2024, my friend and I realized that we had not officially declared our majors on TigerHub. We headed back to their room and settled into the cozy common room. It was incredibly anticlimatic as we both had expected a confetti graphic to appear. They were officially Neuroscience, and I was officially English. While their academic plans had slightly shifted, declaring Neuroscience had been their plan for a long time, whereas we both knew what declaring English had meant for me. 

While the declaration process was simple and straightforward, my path to declaring English was anything but. I applied to Princeton for chemistry and I spent my first three semesters completing the prerequisites. Adjusting to college and Princeton was difficult as a first-generation, low-income student, but I told myself that it was supposed to be hard, and that I would thank myself later. I was miserable in most of my STEM classes and struggled with belonging. I finished my freshman year exhausted and ready to do anything but chemistry during break. I spent the summer in Tallinn, Estonia for eight weeks, studying Russian through Princeton. While I was excited to return to Princeton and see my friends again, I dreaded the p-set packed schedule and anxiety-inducing semester. 


My sophomore fall semester was one of my worst semesters. I had friends and different communities on campus that I had lacked the year before, but I was completely burnt out and often too exhausted to even see them. In addition to my incredibly low energy levels, my anxiety levels were also the highest that they had ever been. Nothing was helping. One night, when neither my medication nor grounding techniques were calming a massive anxiety attack, I called my parents and asked them to take me home. Once we were home, my parents sat me down and expressed their concerns for my health. I remember my mom telling me that Princeton was like a toxic boyfriend to me, and that I should reconsider how I was spending my time here. That night, I realized that something had to change.

I knew that a small part of me had always wanted to study literature, but I had convinced myself that I would never be able to get a job with a humanities degree. I was also deterred by shame. I was worried that my friends and my peers would view me as a failure, as someone who wasn’t smart enough to be a STEM student. There is, undeniably, a widely spread bias that surrounds the humanities. I also felt that I was letting down other women in STEM. It took many conversations with friends to realize that irrational fears were holding me back from what I genuinely wanted to do. 

This semester I was able to take classes that I wanted to take for the first time. My interest reflected in my class attendance and the effort I put in my work. Next semester, instead of battling through p-sets, I’m excited to become engrossed in a novel in a class like 19th Century Fiction and have a sense of belonging and joy in my academic experience. 

Donaji Mendieta-Silva (she/they) is a member of the Class of 2026 and is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ They can be reached at dm4466[at] or on Instagram [at]donaji_ms.