The Unsung Struggle of Liberal Studies

“Oh, that’s cool … Remind me, what is it?”


Sophia Di Iorio, Creative Director

When you’re a first-year in Liberal Studies, icebreakers are a depressing affair. Between the standard questions (“Where are you from?” or “How do you like New York?”), one question prevails: “Where are you transferring after LS ends?” How does one politely say that they have no f-cking clue?

According to the Liberal Studies website, the LS Core Program is NYU’s “small college experience.” Simply put, the program is an undergraduate program wherein a student spends two years enrolled in a liberal arts core curriculum before transferring into one of NYU’s other schools to finish earning their bachelor’s degree. This means that while simultaneously being enrolled in a highly-structured core curriculum, LS students are taking electives to figure out their eventual major. This isn’t to be confused with the Global Liberal Studies Core Program — that’s the four-year version of Liberal Studies, which includes a mandatory junior year spent abroad and an eventual thesis.

Confused? So are most LS students.

This general confusion about being in the program is a running joke among LS first-years. We laugh, “I have no idea how I got here!” without giving much thought to what it means to really be here. The culture of LS is one of alienation. We know we can’t stay here, but we also don’t know where to go next. This divides the program into two camps: the students who know their intended major and which school they’re transferring to, and therefore have already begun the process of taking electives that will help them leave, and the students like me, a few months ago, who had no f-cking clue.

The constant pressure to look forward makes it difficult to put down roots in the LS program. The program is inherently temporary and we’re constantly looking (and being told) to leave it. The fear of the unknown is something that almost every student has to deal with, but the problem is made exponentially worse when you’re in a program that will push you out of the nest in two years whether or not you’re ready to fly.

Ideally, LS advisors would help guide our journeys. Unfortunately, the reality is that advisors are burdened with understanding all of NYU’s colleges and the process of transferring into them, a task which is unrealistic and therefore rarely fulfilled in a comprehensive way.

I have met with my advisor multiple times over the past year and the most meaningful outcome of any meeting has been finding out that I’m on track to graduate. As for my potential transfer, my advisor can’t do much more than bounce me around to advisors from other NYU schools who can actually tell me the requirements I have to fulfill. My academic career has become a calculus of credits, requirements and deadlines.

But the problem of knowing where to go can’t begin to be solved without a high degree of self-awareness and what you want out of your education. If your advisor can’t do much more than send mass emails with various spreadsheets detailing the various requirements for various majors, it’s still up to you to choose which of those spreadsheets to look at.

Nevertheless, after much deliberation I’ve decided to continue down the LS path and major in Global Liberal Studies. Despite all the stress and fear I’ve experienced in this program, I still believe in it. The forced independence of being in LS has led me to understand what I want from my degree. The classes — though they may be detached from my interests — are always taught by captivating professors who expand my worldview with every lecture. Yes, I would have liked more academic guidance and support, but I’ve learned to look to myself rather than the provided infrastructure to understand my own needs.

I don’t have any solutions to the cloud of confusion looming over LS students; I don’t think that there’s a catch-all answer for the issues with the program. All I want is for LS to be seen for what it is: a beautiful, hot mess of misfit students whose advisors think that they all want to transfer into Media, Culture, and Communications. Perhaps this is the moment I put my Core Program education into practice and evoke a bit of wisdom from Socrates: “All I know is that I know nothing.”

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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 print edition. Email Sophia Di Iorio at [email protected]