Major-changers at PKU
MAY . 19 2017
Peking University, May 16, 2017: At PKU, major-changers, those who change their majors during undergraduate study, are not rare. Thanks to the opportunities offered by PKU, students can choose to change their majors in the second semester of the first or second year so long as they pass the exams set by the department they want to enter. With opportunities come hesitation and risk. Three students with diverse backgrounds tell their stories of changing majors, providing insights into the life of major-changers and provoking thoughts for all.
“To change major is the turning point of my life.”
“To change major is the turning point of my life”, Wang Zijing said. He never regretted it.
Wang Zijing took GaoKao (China National Higher Education Entrance Examination) twice. He lived in Beijing. Back in 2012, students in Beijing had to choose universities before knowing their grades. He was not admitted by Peking University the first time. Determined to go to PKU, he re-took Gaokao in 2013. In order to make sure that he could be admitted by PKU this time, he chose a minority language program electing students in advance and requiring lower grades.
After entering university, Wang studied very hard and spent much time enriching his vocabulary and learning grammar. However, he was terribly uncomfortable with memorizing and reciting so that he felt more and more depressed and began to doubt himself.
“I suffered a fierce mental struggle in the first semester. I thought that it might be better if I was gradually accustomed to such a learning mode. But I did not feel like studying language at all”, said Wang.
Wang determined to change his major at the end of the first semester. He chose a comprehensive department in social sciences because of his interests in politics and history and enrolled in two courses of this major in the second semester. He said, “Professors in this department have strong personalities. Their way of dialectical thinking strikes me greatly”.
This was the university life he had imagined before—attending lectures of masters, making excellent friends and being a better man.
Finally, he changed his major.
“The burden of this major is comparatively lighter. Thus I have more time to improve myself”, said he. Wang added that professors would recommend many books but students were free to choose whether to read them or not. “Although I did not read all the books, I did not waste my time”.
Wang would graduate this year and continue his postgraduate study in this major. He hoped to do some more academic research in this area in the following years.
Wang still lived with roommates from his original major. He said that they did not continue to learn the language for a master’s degree and those who intended to work did not choose jobs in related areas. One of his roommates began to do internship when he was a freshman and would work in a consulting company after graduation. They all chose a path different from their major.
If Wang Zijing did not change his major but worked in the other areas after graduation like his roommates, it seemed that he could get what he wanted as well. But Wang said, “In that way, I would lose many opportunities for developing my comprehensive abilities”.
As a result, he did not regret at all.
“The best choice is what suits us.”
PKU admission officer called Li Wei after the grades of Gaokao came out. Li Wei had four choices: engineering, English, environmental science and life science. But she had just a few minutes to make a decision. She chose life science after a brief discussion with her parents because she thought that she would not need to learn mathematics, physics or chemistry in this major.
However, two things happening in her first year greatly shocked Li Wei.
The first was animal biology experiment. She still remembered how they were told to kill laboratory mice and toads, “a mouse was killed by pulling its neck and tail, a toad by a needle pricking in to destroy its brain and spinal cord”. Li Wei dared not to kill them. She was the last one to do it in the class, crying. The teacher had to hold her hand while she pricked the toad. It was a mess when her nose suddenly bled at the same time with the toad.
Li Wei said jokingly, “This was an experience with blood and tears”.
The second thing was that she got a terribly low grade in one of her course which made her GPA lower than 3. She began to doubt whether she was suited to learn life science.
Li Wei came up with the idea of changing major. She intended to change to Chinese and Journalism because she loved reading and writing since she was young.
Her parents were very open minded and respected her decision. But they did not like Li to learn Chinese because they thought that Chinese majors might become idealistic and easily feel depressed when confronting evils of society.
Finally Li changed her major to journalism. And her life “became more colorful”.
She took part in many student associations, worked as host, editor and interviewer and did internships in her second year. Her skills of many aspects improved a lot.
However, choosing to start from the second-year courses of Journalism, her study load was heavy. She had to take many courses in the last year and could not choose a double major. She also failed to compensate for her GPA.
Li studied broadcasting and journalism during the undergraduate period and she would learn dramas and films at the School of Arts after doing tow-year student work. She planned to do video directing in companies or video planning at TV stations after that.
Li thought that the training mode of journalism, different from the academic cultivation in life science, allowed students to do what they like. There was not a good major or a bad one. She also gained much pleasure from field trips when she was studying life science.
“The choice which suits us is the best one”, said she. PKU offered students opportunities to change major. Students should value the opportunity and make their decisions cautiously.
And Li Wei felt lucky to learn what she liked.
“Perhaps every major is a fortress besieged.”
Less lucky than Li Wei, Ye Shaonan chose a major with compulsory courses in mathematics and physics, although he had decided never to study these subjects anymore when he was still in high school.
This ironic beginning seemed to cast shadows on his future study at Peking University. He suffered a lot in the first semester, sitting in the library to work on his incredibly difficult calculus problems for hours but still failed. Firmly believing that things would be getting better, Ye shaonan never gave up and survived the first semester. But the cost was that he started to get bored with study and always procrastinated when facing deadlines of homework from math classes. What’s more, Ye was told by some seniors that the first year should be the easiest time. Gradually, Ye lost his hope and started to consider seriously whether it might be time to change his major, just for escaping. “It is because I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only thing I knew was what I did not want to do.” Ye said.
Having no idea about what to do, Ye was totally in a mess until he registered a course opened by another department. The course seemed interesting and less “like a science major”. He decided to change his major into this faculty. Attracted by other courses on the cultivating plan offered by a senior, he changed his major without attending the compulsory courses of the new major nor thinking about his career development. He called himself “an idealist”, who will choose to study what he likes.
Life seemed to be fresh at the beginning in a new major, but it played a trick on him. He never expected that studying chemistry, conducting experiments, and doing research projects in labs would be his new pattern of life, in which he found all academic research finally went back to the starting point: mathematical models. And he hated it.
Stuck in this struggle so deeply, he did not get rid of his idealism. Can college life start over? He did not know. Would it be better to choose an art major? He had no idea either. “Actually for me, everywhere can be a 'fortress besieged'. It is likely for me to get bored with writing essays all day as well”, Ye said. Looking back at his experience of changing major, Ye felt regretful for making a quick decision without listening to various courses in different departments. But still, he learnt a lot through the experience.
Qian Zhongshu quoted from Montaigne, the French essayist, in his Fortress Besieged that “[Marriage] can be compared to a cage: birds outside it despair to enter, and birds within, to escape.” The besieged fortress symbolizes not only marriage, but also different phases throughout one’s life, and for a student, his or her major. But the most fortunate part is perhaps that major does not decide one’s life. And life is always full of changes and opportunities.
Written by: Chen Guanlan, Su Lan
Edited by: Yan Shengnan