Genevieve Agar: How I Reconciled Creative Arts with Economics (Major Exploration Series)

Career Administrator

 This blog post is part of the Major Exploration Series featuring more posts that will be published throughout the months of March and April 2017.

A common misconception some students may have when deciding their major(s) is thinking they need to choose between something that aligns with their "passion" and something that will be considered "practical." While every case is unique to the individual, it is possible to reconcile interests that may at first seem to be polar opposites. Read about how one of our Career Peer Educators, Genevieve Agar (CLAS ‘17, Economics), did just that during her nontraditional undergraduate experience.

A Conventional & Unconventional Beginning

Before attending college, Genevieve did not have a specific discipline in mind that she wanted to pursue because she found herself interested in “everything from neuroscience to music.” In addition to this, Genevieve also admitted that the very idea of choosing a major a bit confusing; “I didn’t understand [that] you had to pick a major; I thought you could sort of take whatever classes interested you.” Many would find that this is a fairly normal situation that many first year college students face. However, Genevieve’s story took some interesting turns after this point.

Genevieve initially attended Pomona College in Claremont, California before transferring to UVA as a third year undergraduate student. She never intended to leave Pomona; due to financial difficulties, Genevieve dropped out after two semesters. During this time, Genevieve held a variety of jobs and then worked her way into wedding photography. While wedding photography was far from easy, she explained, “I loved the fast-paced, high-stress and creative environment." While she was working in this industry, she also made the best use of her time by getting advice from professionals about the best ways to pursue a creative career path. What she learned was quite unexpected.

To the likely surprise of many, the photographers Genevieve interacted with generally recommended choosing a more rational-oriented major when she returned to finish her degree. They told her that the most challenging aspect of being an artist was not learning her craft, which could be perfected through practice. Genevieve recalled:

They told me that the hardest part of being successful in art was not being original, hard-working, or creative--these things came naturally to them; where they needed the most help was running an effective, efficient business.

In the end, this counsel influenced her decision to major in Economics when she went back to school. “While I’m not claiming my choice was perfect for everyone,” Genevieve clarified, “I have found that it [has] helped me immensely in having an analytical background, especially when working in a creative industry.”

A New Start

Last year, Genevieve transferred to UVA with the intention of majoring in Economics at her new university. Unfortunately, the process proved to have its frustrations. “Feeling rushed would be an understatement,” Genevieve said in response to how the major declaration process worked for transfer students at UVA. “Because I wanted to study Economics (a major notoriously out of reach for transfer students),” she added, “I took summer classes online and started working with the wonderful Economics Undergraduate Program Coordinator months before I even arrived on Grounds.” She emphasized that it was (and still is) particularly difficult to have an Economics major for third year transfers because most of the pre-requisite courses for the discipline had to be completed before declaring, which was an almost impossible feat since most of the qualifying classes were not offered outside of UVA. While Genevieve was able to obtain her first choice major of Economics in the end, she was dismayed to learn that UVA often admits transfer students without informing them of which programs they can feasibly major in.

At this point, people might still be wondering how it might be possible to reconcile creative interests with such a logically-oriented major, like Economics. Genevieve admitted, “Although I’ve always used creativity as an outlet, it is truly difficult to balance with an Economics major, particularly when you transfer and need to fast-track your classes.” On the other hand, this did not mean Genevieve came away without any benefits from her decision. She explained, “While Economics has taken up more of my time than I may have liked, it [has] taught me how to quickly prioritize and budget my time so that I’m still pursuing my passions while earning my degree.” In fact, Genevieve has still been able to pursue creative hobbies such as playing the accordion and curating photo exhibits. Genevieve related a similar experience about her friend, “[My friend who is also a filmmaker] once told me that when she’s making films, she does better in school, even though she is a Politics major.”

A Myriad of Possibilities

By now one might be wondering where Genevieve’s unique path will take her in the future. “I will be a 2017 Venture for America (VFA) Fellow,” she revealed before adding, “One of my long-term goals is to create initiatives that catapult traditionally underrepresented people into media career pathways, sort of like SEO Career for the film and music industry.” Because of Genevieve’s unconventional experiences, she acknowledged that it could be a challenge to explain to potential employers, recruiters, and other professionals about her major and creative interests, however she pointed out, “This is where meeting a career counselor becomes your secret weapon.” She recalled the experience of a helping hand that assisted her in developing confidence in her decisions, "There was a wonderful career counselor who took the time to hear my story and taught me a skill I will never forget, and now teach to students who visit the Career Center: know what makes you different, know your story, and know how to tell your story beautifully.

As a parting thought, Genevieve expressed one more piece of advice to students, “People here [at UVA] are incredibly polished, professional, and overcaffeinated, yet most students are likely between 18 and 22--[which means] you don’t need to have your life together yet.” Instead, Genevieve recommended, “Take this time to challenge and develop yourself--you won’t get it again when you enter the work world.”