March 19, 2023

CHOUNG | All Majors Are Hard

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I’ll be the first to admit it — I’ve bombed a prelim before. 

Bombing a prelim seems so easy to say and accept, but once you’re in that situation, it can feel like the end of the world, especially to students who are ambitious and high achievers. It feels harder for me to accept this reality because I caged myself in the notion that I shouldn’t find any of my classes difficult, especially because I am in a humanities-based major. As a student studying Policy Analysis and Management, I’ve always compared my workload to my pre-medical or engineering friends and discredited my own struggles. Every time I catch myself feeling down about the amount of work I have to do, I scold myself for thinking my classes are difficult when my friends have it worse than me. I’ve only just come to the realization that I need to show myself grace and acknowledge that I may find my major difficult. This doesn’t discount my intelligence or efforts, but is just another demonstration of how academically rigorous Cornell is. 

Saying that you failed a prelim can be numbing, especially with the prevalent prelim culture here on campus. I seem to hear this phrase every week, especially from students in more academically demanding majors, such as engineering or pre-med students. It almost seems to be a rite of passage and a sense of pride for Cornell students — you are not officially one of us until you’ve felt the pressures of academic success looming over you. Your struggles feel heard if everyone collectively agrees that a prelim was hard, and you feel especially validated when you are in a more traditionally difficult major. However, as many know, Cornell also offers many non-traditional majors. 

The famous words of Ezra Cornell, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,” are reflected in the vast number of majors at Cornell. There are nearly 80 formal majors offered at Cornell, ranging from computer science to viticulture and enology. Unfortunately, not all of these majors hold equal weight in the students’ eyes. Some majors are infamously mocked; majoring in hotel administration is seen as easier than other majors and is a common scapegoat for the wrath of stressed STEM students. 

I argue against this notion that some majors are easier than others. It seems that Cornell professors are fair in distributing the workload evenly. Although STEM majors deal with more topics that require application of concepts, humanities majors have to analyze complex, subjective ideas and contribute their own thoughts toward the discussion. In my class PAM 2030: Population and Public Policy, we discuss pronatalist and antinatalist views on fertility and population, and it was my first glimpse into the different factors and concerns over population size. For a subject that may sound mundane at first glance, there are many complexities surrounding it that make it a very difficult problem to solve. Beyond just the objective difficulties regarding academics, many can attribute their success in their majors to their individual affinities. Those in engineering might find humanities-based classes more difficult, while those in humanities might find engineering harder. There is a fair balance point between both fields; although STEM majors are more challenging to receive good grades in, GPA doesn’t matter as much in the fields they want to pursue. However, GPA is incredibly important for humanities majors, especially if they are considering graduate school. 

Cornell’s culture of dismissing other majors led me into a trap of discrediting my struggles and making me feel as if I am not intelligent enough to pursue my major. It is a common stress tactic to bring others down when you feel down as well, but it is safe to say that Cornell is a rigorous school for all majors. Let us all build a system of support into our school culture and recognize that in a place where the mantra of, “any person, any study” is highlighted, we must acknowledge all majors equally. 

Adin Choung is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at [email protected]. A Dinner is Served runs every other Sunday this semester.