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Today marked a decisive event in my Harvard career: I submitted my Plan of Study.

Towards the end of sophomore fall, Harvard students are required to submit a tentative outline of the courses they’re planning to take over their remaining five semesters at the College. The Plan of Study is essentially Harvard’s way of ensuring that each student is aware of their remaining General Education requirements and has a feasible means of completing their concentration requirements before graduation. In a way, it’s the College making sure we’ll “finish” on time.

While the process of filling out a Plan of Study and submitting it for approval is relatively painless, the reality of it is a bit more intimidating. Why? It brings with it a couple heavy realizations. For one, sophomores have to choose – or, declare – a concentration. After three semesters of testing the academic waters and exploring interests, we’re required for the first time to think seriously about what we want to study at Harvard. Secondly, it means we only have five semesters left!! The rumors are true: college absolutely flies by, and nothing makes this reality more clear than having to plan for your not-too-distant senior spring semester. Fortunately, the plan is non-binding, so that the flexibility exists to change concentrations and, of course, change classes along the way. In fact, a Harvard student blog – the Voice – published this post at the same time we were all submitting our plans to remind us all that this does not have to be a permanent decision.

Logistically speaking, I was actually pretty lucky when it came to filling out my Plan of Study. I applied to be a Social Studies concentrator about a month ago, which required me to outline a “focus field” and definitely got the ball rolling in terms of class selection. I’m also pre-med, so three of my remaining classes are going to be filled with chemistry and physics. Combine all those requirements with my Gen Ed’s, and I’m already looking at a nearly full five semesters!

I’m including a screen shot of my Plan of Study – we fill it out online, get it signed by two academic advisors, and submit it to the Registrar. You’ll see that a completed plan fulfills all eight Gen Ed requirements and lists enough concentration classes to fulfill a degree.

At first, I thought it was going to be depressing to see how little “space” I had left after scattering requirements over my remaining semesters, but filling out the Plan of Study proved quite the opposite. After getting a chance to pore over the course catalog for a night and think about what I’m interested in studying, I came to the conclusion that I’m really, really excited to be a Social Studies concentrator. I’ve picked some awesome classes so far and literally can’t wait to start taking some of them.

A lot of people question my decision to be both pre-med and a Social Studies (or more generally, a non-science) concentrator. True, I’m going to have a few more requirements than most. Overall, though, I’ve decided it’s a nice way to get a bit of both worlds – I think I’ll value graduating with some knowledge of science, even if I never end up attending med school. What everyone doesn’t know is that I’m also thinking of getting a secondary (“minor”) in Human Evolutionary Biology… That can be decided at a later date, though.

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Whenever I go home, the typical conversation when I meet people goes something like:

“What are you majoring in?”

“Social studies!”

“What? Like that class I took in fourth grade?”

Yes, I’m in probably the worst-named concentration at Harvard, but also (in my opinion) the most interesting and flexible. I basically get to take any class in the social sciences and count it towards my concentration. Then, senior year, I write a thesis on a topic of interest after conducting research.

This past week, I just declared my focus field, the selection of classes that define what you choose to focus on within the social sciences. My focus field – “Political Economy, Technology, and the NGO-Government Complex” – looks at how new technologies and NGOs affect development and economic and political outcome in Latin America.

The story of my focus field originates a few thousand miles away in Argentina, where Harvard sent me this summer on a fellowship. Working at a microfinance NGO in La Plata, Argentina, I saw first hand how governments, foreign aid, NGOs, and technology can work together to give citizens new economic opportunities. In between meeting their loan recipients, I worked on implementing a new IT system for the organization as well as experiencing the World Cup (which they take really, really seriously, by the way). But I saw that for almost every client we spoke with form the bank, each was excited about how they wanted to use their profits to bring their children out of poverty through education. I also noticed that many countries like Uruguay were spending on programs like One Laptop per Child while there was still limited data on how this can actually help students come out of poverty despite the dreams of the international community.

What do you get combining a desire to go back again to Latin America on Harvard’s dime; an interest in economics, political science, and computer science; and the flexibility of Social Studies? For me, I got my focus field. I still have a lot to do, but I’m excited about what I’ll be able to find (and experience during my next trip to Latin America!).

Me with one of our bank’s clients

Me with one of our bank’s clients

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