For many, starting college without an idea of what exactly they plan to do after graduation is a common occurrence. A newfound freedom becomes empowering as the task of prioritizing time falls in the hands of each person. The initial rush that comes with this freedom, however, can be short lived: many students begin questioning what they really want to do with their lives and whether their current academic program is the right fit.
According to NYU’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, for the past two years around 1,000 students have internally transferred to another college at NYU in the fall semester.
However, deciding to change majors is not as easy as it might sound. Students across different schools tell their own stories of transferring majors, weighing different conflicts from culture, family, stereotype, practicality and suitability.
Stern School of Business to the College of Arts and Science
Conflict: criticizing Stern’s culture; upper middle class dilemma
CAS Junior Daniel Cheng just completed transferring from Stern, where he studied finance and marketing, to CAS, where he is now studying comparative literature. He recently criticized Stern’s culture in “Stern as Sociology,” an article that has gained attention from both NYU and the general public.
“In Stern, you spent a lot of time figuring out how rather than why, you don’t actually question anything,” Cheng said. “But if you have fundamentally gone into the very depth of who you are, why I am making the choice I am making, is this actually what I want to do, is this actually satisfying me, then all that how is basically bullshit.”
After reading a book called “Excellent Sheep” that discussed the culture problem in elite U.S. schools one year ago, Cheng found his interest in literature.
“The author explained why most of these upper middle class kids were going toward pre-med, pre-law and investment banking even though they don’t like it, and how we can learn from reading literature,” Cheng said. “Then I started reading and set myself a rule to read one book every week. And I just went from there.”
Cheng also shared his viewpoint about why people are rushing into high-profile professions like law, medicine and finance from a capitalist perspective.
“Capitalism generally has two victims,” Cheng said. “One is the people who don’t get enough goods they need, the other is the people who do get enough material goods but socially feel that they have to maintain that fortune and social prestige,” Cheng said. “So if I were born at this upper middle class family, I have to be able to do all these things that the society says is good, like lawyers, doctors, bankers, these prestigious things.”
The biggest difficulty Cheng faced while making this decision was to confront his own fears of an uncertain future.
“It’s a lot easier for somebody to put the road map right in front of you than you actually go out to choose what you want to do,” Cheng said. “That’s the main fear, that being able to push yourself out there, understand that this road isn’t set up for me, but that’s exactly what freedom is. It took me a while to come to grips with that.”
Cheng isn’t quite sure about his future career path yet, but he is especially interested in collective actions and social systems. He is also considering a career in academia to help people better understand the society we are living in.
For students who are still wavering over whether or not to change their major, Cheng encouraged them to follow their hearts and not overthink.
“Go with your gut,” Cheng said. “When you actually want something, there is no reason for it. It just is.”
Pre-med to Anthropology in CAS
Conflict: family objection
CAS junior Ardi Khalafi recently shifted from the pre-medical track to anthropology. Regardless of his family’s strong opposition, Khalafi is confident about his decision.
“I didn’t really think being a doctor was ideal for me, because there are a lot of more restrictions of being a doctor,” Khalafi said. “You have to go through a lot of schooling, and after that, you are restricted to a certain kind of job you want to do.”
Khalafi first decided to study pre-med to meet his family’s expectations. But after he found his passion for sociology and anthropology, he decided not to follow through with it.
“There is so much outside pressure for me to go toward medicine from my family, but there was something I really wanted to do,” Khalafi said. “I was really interested in social science. So eventually, when I was taking my science classes, I realized that I just couldn’t do this anymore. So I finally told my family.”
However, it was difficult for Khalafi to convince his parents that he was making the right choice, as they had some ideological conflicts.
“They are really concerned about the competitive job market, and they constantly bring up that I wouldn’t be able to support a family or them when I am older,” Khalafi said. “It’s just they have a different ideology because they are immigrants, and all they’re really thinking about is making as much money as possible.”
Unable to win favors from family at this point, Khalafi believes it will become better over time and feels considerably happier.
“I have a lot of more free time, and I used that time to explore different interests that I have within academia and anthropology,” Khalafi said. “The courses I’m taking now are so much relevant to what I want to do.”
Looking to the future, Khalafi wants to go to graduate school first for anthropology, specifically east Asian studies, and ultimately become an academic.
For students who are struggling with the same problem, Khalafi advises them to not let family influence their career choices too much.
“Don’t think too much about what your parents think,” Khalafi said. “In the end, they are going to love you no matter what you do, even they disagree with what you think. Going down to a path that you don’t want to go down, because they want you to go down, will just lead to a misery.”
Email Lingyi Hou at [email protected].