Illustration by Nahil Memon

Better Late than Never: Upperclassmen changing majors

Some upperclassmen realise they've made a mistake in the major they've chosen. Here is their experience with changing.

Sep 25, 2016

NYU Abu Dhabi students are encouraged to formally declare their majors by the spring of their sophomore year. Many students begin completing major requirements in their first or second semester in order to graduate on time. The number of required courses for each major, however, differs — Political Science requires 10 while Civil Engineering requires 23.5. Completion of a major along with other graduation requirements like Islamic Studies, the Core Curriculum and Physical Education classes often necessitates careful planning. In fact, for students to apply for study abroad they must submit a four-year academic plan detailing all their intended courses, semester by semester.
Despite these demands, it is still possible to change majors late in one’s academic career at NYUAD. Senior Natalia Cruz enjoyed psychology classes in high school and excelled in them. She took Introduction to Psychology as a freshman at NYUAD and soon declared a Psychology major. As she advanced in her studies however, she became disenchanted.
“I really didn’t feel like the [Psychology] department supported their students. It wasn’t organized … and they weren’t looking to fulfill the students’ requests or needs or interests,” Cruz said.
Junior Áron Braunsteiner also discovered his affinity for physics in high school.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said, “and I thought that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was also easy for me. I liked that it was something I could do easily and feel accomplished.”
As his classes became more advanced, Braunsteiner worked harder but the increasing challenges didn’t motivate him.
“I thought, if it’s something I don’t enjoy struggling with, then maybe I shouldn’t,” Braunsteiner said.
As an institution, NYUAD strongly encourages students to pursue research opportunities after they have completed some introductory courses in a major. As an upperclassmen, Braunsteiner participated in various research projects with physics faculty, including a summer opportunity that sent him to Greenland and New York. Physicists spend much of their graduate and post-graduate careers in research, so Braunsteiner wanted to try it out as an undergraduate. He enjoyed the initial phase of investigation, but his excitement didn’t last.
“When I was working on [research] on my own and for a longer period of time … it seemed more like a nine-to-five job rather than something I was doing with my life. Once the novelty wore off, it wasn’t that exciting anymore,” Braunsteiner said. “The person I was working with in New York said … if you don’t enjoy working on your own … then maybe research isn’t for you.”
The capstone is a particularly important project for NYUAD students, and for science majors it usually takes the form of a research paper. Like Braunsteiner, Cruz also struggled with the expectation to conduct scientific research. At the end of her junior year, Cruz was unhappy with her proposed capstone.
“I wasn’t excited about it, and that terrified me,” said Cruz. “If I wasn’t really motivated by [my] capstone junior year, there was no way I was going to be happy about it senior year.”
Senior Alexandru Roșca also chose to change majors once he began research last year for his capstone in psychology.
“I was being forced to pick a project from the areas of research of the professors in the Psychology department,” he said. “At that time, most of the Psychology faculty were cognition or neuroscience oriented, whereas my area of interest was social psychology.”
For many, changing their major isn’t quite as simple as just reconfiguring their course schedule. Students choose majors based on career goals, cultural and familial expectations, notions of identity and sometimes, anxiety. As an underclassman, Roșca was most interested in theater, but decided to declare a major in Psychology instead.
“I chose Psychology over Theater because, coming from Romania, I was raised to believe that a career in the sciences would offer me more stability than one in the arts,” he said. “I was trying to convince myself — as my Eastern Europeanness dictates — that majoring in a science might make me more competitive on the job market once I graduated than majoring in the arts would. I guess my philosophy back then was to swallow the bitter pill over and over in order to feel better later.”
For Braunsteiner, being a physicist was central to his identity, and he had long envisioned himself getting an advanced degree and going into research after graduation. The transition caused a certain degree of personal reckoning.
“I thought … well, I don’t want to do this but I’m also not 100 percent sure what I want to do, which is not a good place to be in your junior year. So that’s why I kept saying I [would] finish [a physics] degree, for such a long time, even though I wanted to switch already,” said Braunsteiner. Braunsteiner is currently planning to complete a major in Political Science with a possible Theater concentration.
Though changing one’s major as a junior or senior is possible, the ease of transition varies case by case. In the cases of Cruz, Braunsteiner and Roșca, they started out majoring in the sciences and then switched to the social sciences or humanities. It is much more challenging to switch into a science or engineering major without significant adjustments, summer courses and sometimes a delayed graduation. The amount of requirements means that students need to start engineering and science majors in their first year, allowing less time for academic exploration. Some feel that this kind of exploration and discovery is crucial for students at the start of university.
“Most of us are young, come from countries with various expectations about academics, and honestly might not know what we are truly passionate about right off the bat,” said Roșca.
Though it is often a difficult and uncertain transition, the pursuit of one’s true academic interests is a noble one.
Cruz declared a major in Philosophy at the end of her junior year. “I am so much happier now academically,” says Cruz. “I had the opportunity to change my [academic] career in my third year of university. That is an opportunity that no other university gives you. If you’re really not happy with what you’re studying, you have to do something about it, because you can. If it’s an easy case like mine, it should be seriously thought about.”
Roșca, who ultimately declared a major in Theater, also encouraged other students unsure about their majors to follow their instincts.
“Do not sit on that uncertainty,” he advised. “Reach out to fellow students who might feel the same way that you do, or professors and staff who you feel comfortable talking to. At NYUAD, there will always be at least one solution to your woes if you just ask for a little help.”
Annie Bauer is Deputy Copy Chief. Email her at
gazelle logo