Four years, one major, one post-graduation path, so many decisions.

Mixed up in these decisions are dreams, practicality, experience, and as I found, talking to other students this past week, a lot of passion. If there’s one thing that unites a student body with so many diverse interests, it’s the gusto with which they approach their fields of study and profession. This week I had the opportunity to learn about several students’ unique major and career decisions. 

Sometimes the decision is easy, as the decision for a major will be for sophomore Emanuel Castaneda. Since he has always been interested in business and finance, “economics seemed like an appealing quantitative major,” he said. Also considering majoring in math, Emanuel believes economics to be the better choice since “economics is also extremely applicable, which is something I found mathematics sometimes lacked,” he said. Economics seems like an easy choice for many across the board. “Econ” is one of the most popular majors on campus, perhaps due to its applicability for a wide range of potential career paths, from business to law and politics.

However, sometimes it’s not future career goals but positive past experience that motivate the decision. Junior Miriam Holmes is passionate about teaching. She is majoring in English and completing the Teacher Prep certificate and the certificate in theater, and her career goals combine these interests into one path: teaching theater. “Arts can give students the opportunity to express themselves or be good at something that is not purely academic—it is not only a place for emotional release, but perhaps it can be a motivator as well,” she said. Her decision speaks with admiration for her own teachers in the past. “My teachers have been so inspirational to me, and I would love to be able to inspire others in that way.”

Often, however, finding your path turns out to be serendipity. “Upon matriculating at Princeton, I thought I would study Biology,” explained Samantha Gebb, senior in the Architecture Department, “but on a whim I took the Architecture introductory studio design course and fell in love with the department and the discipline.” Architecture turned out to be the perfect fit for Samantha, “I enjoy the graphic, synthetic way of thinking and the opportunity that the discipline provides for combining all of my interests and examining the world from a multitude of angles,” she said. Although she’s not sure if her path will lead her to a career as an architect who designs buildings, “I am certain that my architectural education will serve me in whatever I do,” she said. “It has taught me to be simultaneously critical and creative.” The past few years, Samantha’s interest in architecture led her to pursue a study abroad program in London and a summer internship in Brazil.

Like Samantha, Elise Backman, a junior in the Woodrow Wilson School, has also spent several summers abroad in Brazil. Headed for a career as a diplomat in the Foreign Service, Elise spent last summer studying abroad and then interning with the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia. Even before her time abroad, Elise has always had a passion for speaking other languages and learning about other cultures. Her passions and experiences persuaded her to pursue a career in Foreign Service centered on Brazil and its region in Latin America. “I fell in love with the region,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a region that is very well understood by policy makers today. There’s so much potential for economic and cultural exchange between [the U.S.] and Brazil. I really want to be a part of fostering that partnership and making it stronger in years to come.” Elise sees her role as a diplomat like that of the social connector in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point—but within a policy framework. “I think diplomacy is the government’s role in fostering relationships with people outside the state department,” she said. “Diplomacy is all about making relationships and making them stronger.”