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I Don't Want to Do Engineering But Feel Constantly Pressured to Do So

RolenOakenbowRolenOakenbow 0 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
Let me start this off with some contextualization. I come from a heavily conservative Indian family, which means that while growing up, my parents have constantly been telling me that I need to study either medicine or engineering. From the moment I hit middle school, I faced a constant bombardment of IIT-JEE prep courses and general railroading towards the engineering world, especially as both of my parents are computer engineers. The catch? I've never been even remotely interested in medicine or engineering. From a young age, I've excelled at debate, which honed my research skills, analytical thinking, and policy exposure. I've always known that I wanted to do something along those lines, but growing up in South India, that was always out of the question.

After my sophomore year of high school, we moved to the US, and boy did it hit me like a breath of fresh air. I was introduced to a land of endless possibilities, and families that were supportive of their children no matter what field of study they entered. I was enamored, and began to think that maybe I may have a chance to study what I wanted. So one day my junior year I summoned enough courage and told my parents I wanted to study government, with a focus on environmental policy.

I was ridiculed and branded delusional for even bringing up such ideas. Liberal arts are for white kids, they said. What's this about you not liking math? That's not acceptable. Stop debating and focus on your studies.

When I began applying to college, I had the chance to apply to some very prestigious universities. My grades were great, I'd gotten 5s on all my liberal arts AP tests (think APUSH, AP Gov, AP Lang etc), and I had the extracurriculars to back me up. The moment I brought my idea to my father though, I was immediately shot down. "If you want to study government, pay for it yourself," I was told. Things got to a head when he refused to pay my application fee unless I applied as a prospective mechanical engineering student. At the time, I was financially dependent on my parents for everything, and had little sense of independence. I put my head down, allowed myself to be bullied into submission, and said okay. Maybe engineering wouldn't be so bad, I told myself. Maybe I could study environmental engineering, and it would somewhat align with the goals I had envisaged for myself.

My first year of college has been miserable. I managed to BS my way into a top engineering college on the East Coast, and I am struggling like I never have before. My grades have tanked because I am way out of my depth. Competing against kids who have studied multivariable calculus since the tenth grade and who are there because they want to be is both incredibly challenging and incredibly demoralizing. I feel like a fraud, and like there's nothing I can do in my situation.

To make matters worse, my university is divided into individual colleges. To feasibly transfer into my university's College of Arts and Sciences (to study gov), I'd have to submit a formal transfer request, for which I have nowhere near the required GPA. My grades are in the dirt, and I've been placed on academic probation because I'm just not able to keep up academically. I'm lost, demotivated, and in a rut.

I can't bring this up to my parents, because when I do, they give me the same stock responses, every time. "Engineering is hard for everyone. This nonsense about government is just an escapist fantasy." "You're an arrogant, ungrateful child who can't appreciate the sacrifices we've made for you." "If you're too stupid for engineering, there are always minimum wage jobs looking to hire." I cannot tell them that I have been depressed for the past three years, that I am absolutely miserable watching my friends live out their dreams elsewhere, that I feel guilty because maybe I am being ungrateful and throwing away a shot others would kill to have. But I don't know what else to do.

I really want to study government, and I really want to work in the public sector dealing with environmental policy in the future. I'm not a bad student, either. I had straight As in high school, and got really high grades in my writing and singular environmental policy class in college. I'm passionate about the environment, about political theory and analysis, and about civic engagement. I've recently been looking at withdrawing from the College of Engineering and reapplying to my university's College of Arts and Sciences, but I'm terrified that my low GPA disqualifies me from consideration. I've been looking at external academic forgiveness program at other universities, but I'm afraid my parents will cut me off financially and I won't be able to afford college anymore.

I'm terrified, you guys. What do I do?

Tl;dr - I want to study government but my parents have pushed me into engineering. Now I'm flunking college and I have no clue what to do. Please help
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Replies to: I Don't Want to Do Engineering But Feel Constantly Pressured to Do So

  • EconPopEconPop 119 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited June 20
    @RolenOakenbow , I was in a similar position long before you were born. Long story short, I enrolled in Aerospace Engineering when I really wanted to be in a Liberal Arts major. My grades slumped in my engineering classes and soared in my electives, and I overloaded my course load because I wanted to experience as many non-engineering classes as I could each semester.

    My advice, go to your parents and tell them politely but directly that engineering is not for you. Politely but clearly, tell them that your grades in the engineering classes are not good and that if you are forced to remain in engineering you fear you will fail. Tell them how you have discovered that the better-performing engineering students had taken more high school classes that prepared them better than you. Politely but helpfully, tell your parents you don't want to waste their money by flunking out of the engineering program. Then offer two or three majors you would like to transfer to.

    Prior to this meeting, compile a list of jobs you are confident you can land with degrees in those three other fields. Have a list ready of notable people who do those jobs. Show your parents your future earning potential in those fields.

    Tell your parents you love them and are not doing this to hurt them. Tell them you want to be in a position to earn good grades and make them proud, but that you cannot do that in engineering.

    From the way you described the situation, I expect they will push back some. While maintaining your composure, reiterate your poor grades and the very real possibility of flunking out if you are forced to remain in engineering. State again that you want to make them proud by earning high grades.

    You sound like a very mature young adult. I am certain you can pull this off. It will be painful. Your parents will be hurt and disappointed by your revelations, and maybe a little angry. However, they will be even more hurt, more disappointed, and angrier, if you go through another semester or year and end up on academic probation. The time for this discussion is now.

    Prior to the meeting, have a list of alternate universities you might transfer to. Maybe if you go to a less-expensive school, your parents might agree to the switch in major. Worst case scenario, you can transfer to a school that is so affordable (probably a public university in your home state) that you can afford without their financial aid. Don't mention these alternative universities unless your parents lead the conversation in that direction. If they do lead the conversation this way, it is best for you to be prepared with options. Also, have a talk with your current university about whether or not they will allow you to change your major at this point. It will be good to know whether or not you have this option.

    This is your future. Another year of poor grades is only going to make it more difficult for you at every option. It is in your best interests to talk to your parents as soon as you can do so face-to-face.

    Good luck!
    edited June 20
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  • OneMoreKidOneMoreKid 47 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Is it possible to "reset", speak with your Advisor(s) and possibly go the Environmental Engineering route; with all of the future policy/career considerations of that? Engineers can do anything (and many end up doing other things anyway).
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 6995 replies50 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I was also think the environmental engineering route.

    I would also recommend you speak to your college counseling center to get support.
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  • squ1rrelsqu1rrel 364 replies25 threadsRegistered User Member
    Rip I think this happens to a lot of Asian kids; I've kind of been forced into Computer Science, but for me it's not as bad because my parents are like "If you don't want to do Com Sci, do you have anything better to do?" and I don't really know what I want to do so I just say ok. I'm not very good however.
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  • SincererLoveSincererLove 748 replies22 threadsRegistered User Member
    We are not Indians, but Asian parents who are guilty of doing the same to our kids. D17 was great in writing and wanted to apply Political Sciences and Journalism. We said no, you need to have a profession that provides you with a decent living. Fast forward three years, she is rising CS premed junior with a GPA of 3.92.

    We want to do the same to DS20. We want him to apply information science or an easy engineering major as he is not as motivated as his sister. We were surprised that his public HS GC supported us by saying that you don’t have to be an engineer with an engineering degree. But employers love to hire engineers for various other positions too, because of their problem solving skills, according to GC.

    OP, your parents have the best intentions at heart. They just try to pass on what they know, what they have seen worked in life. Engineering is hard for everyone, that is true. But I believe you really need to build your confidence back up. No kid I know in our school studied MV calculus in 10th grade. As long as you work hard and stay organized, your grade will get better. You don’t really need to show your GPA on your resume anyway.

    Best of luck!
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  • compmomcompmom 10690 replies76 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    The problem here is that your aptitude doesn't match your parents' ambitions for you. But the good news is that your aptitude DOES match your own interests. I would see a counselor or advisor and try to have a third party mediator of some sort, talk with your parents. If you had posted this before attending I would have written to warn of flunking and of parents paying or you accumulating debt for a bad transcript.

    If you had a different family with a different background culture, I would recommend leaving school for a break, and reapplying to a program that suits your talents and interests better (or transferring, but if you go elsewhere your GPA starts over). In order to do that you might have to take classes as an unmatriculated student and demonstrate, through A's in a few courses, that you can do the work in government (as opposed to engineering).
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  • bopperbopper 14012 replies100 threadsForum Champion CWRU Forum Champion
    edited June 20
    in the USA, it is assumed that your parents pay for your college.
    So you can decide to major in something acceptable to them or to find a way to pay for college yourself.

    i am an engineer and I took AP Calc AB in HS and then took Calc 1 again in college and did just fine as an engineer.
    I work in telecom as an analyst/solution architect which is not a detailed hands on job.

    In your case I would pursue Environmental Engineering with Poli Sci electives.
    Get tutors/go to Professor office hours if you need help.
    edited June 20
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  • scmom12scmom12 3103 replies21 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 20
    If you can’t do environmental engineering maybe a minor. Friend S at Clemson has a minor in sustainability and did a summer internship in that area of engineering. Scientific and analytical knowledge of sustainability issues would get you into those areas. You don’t say which engineering. Maybe look at civil engineering. It might dovetail with environmental issues really well and would allow to to explore that emphasis on future projects.

    If you have gen ed electives left take them in government area. When you graduate, you can eventually get a masters in public policy. Many grad programs don’t require your undergrad degree be in that area - something to research. You are independent for purposes of financial aide in grad school.

    View your current school as stepping stone. Buckle down and get tutors and work hard to do the best you can.

    Also, see what is available outside class in this area. At D’s school there was a sustainability group. There was even a non-academic certificate in it (similar to leadership programs). These would serve you well. Volunteer with an environmental group that lobbies. They are always looking for free labor. Go talk with career center. Likely you will have lots of opportunities to do what you want to in life. Seems like there is no point in wasting energy to change your parents mind. Good luck.
    edited June 20
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  • TooOld4SchoolTooOld4School 3329 replies12 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    We have a large mostly Indian family, but most of us are 1st and 2nd generation. And perhaps not surprisingly, most of us are in CS, Engineering, Medicine, Pharma, etc. - but some are in Law, Business, Consulting, Finance, and even Media. Realize that your parents pushed you into engineering (or medicine) because they love your and are concerned about your ability to have a good life after you graduate. That's the path that they know.

    Because you are a difficult situation academically, and it would be difficult to switch to Liberal Arts, ask your parents if they will pay for tutoring (for math?) over the summer and during the school year. It's going to require more work for you to master the curriculum. Take a soft skills (how to study effectively and organize your time) class if you haven't already. A lot of students breeze through High School - especially after coming from a much more rigorous system like in India. Sometimes you just have to work through it. Engineering is not easy for anyone - especially in the top schools where they design the programs to make it nearly impossible to complete without teams.

    I agree with the others about switching your engineering major - also look at Industrial Operations Engineering , or even a Project Engineering , or joint programs (e.g. Organizational behavior) if they have them at your school. The skills you will learn as an engineer - and most importantly the thinking process to deconstruct problems into manageable, solvable bits will serve you very well no matter what you do in the future. Engineers are hired into almost every conceivable area and have a sizeable advantage because of their technical knowledge and problem solving abilities.
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  • happymomof1happymomof1 29606 replies173 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    What is your immigration status? Do you have a green card, or are you here with an H4 while a parent has an H1? That can affect their plans for you too.

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  • compmomcompmom 10690 replies76 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There seem to be a lot of engineers responding :) I still hope you can study government. Any chance your family would be happy with law school in the future? You could argue that government would be a good prep for that.
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3344 replies11 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    OP, have you considered studying economics and environmental policy? Would make better use of your engineering math skills than poli sci.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 3955 replies16 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 20
    https://www.cmu.edu/epp/

    There are actually schools that have this combination of engineering and public policy. Maybe your school can mimic this idea.

    http://www.civ.neu.edu/degrees/ms-epp

    I wouldn't double major but a minor will give you the knowledge.
    edited June 20
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  • lastone03lastone03 941 replies11 threadsRegistered User Member
    Do they know you are on probation? Do they know how much you hate it? Maybe you can show them all the jobs you could have with a PS major. Maybe they just need to be educated on the value of non-STEM majors.
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  • yikesyikesyikesyikesyikesyikes 1840 replies129 threadsForum Champion U. Michigan Forum Champion
    edited June 21
    I think @happymomof1 asked a great question. What is your immigration status? Changing your major to non-engineering might make it very difficult to stay and work in the United States (if that is your goal) post-grad.
    edited June 21
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  • yucca10yucca10 1241 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Do you have any other Indian relatives or older friends who could talk to your parents? They need to realize first it's much more lucrative to be a good lawyer or a government official than a bad engineer, and second, that it's not enough to study hard, you need natural abilities to be a good engineer. Your parents can't really mean minimal wage jobs are their only acceptable alternative to engineering. Presented with this choice as inevitable, my guess is they'll warm up to a change of major. Then you'll need to talk to your academic advisor and find a way to do this.
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  • wis75wis75 14029 replies62 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 21
    Totally disagree with post # 1! NO WAY should the OP struggle with a major he dislikes. My H is Indian-we met in a doctor's lounge- and we used to say our gifted son was too smart o be a physician. H's cousin, gifted son of immigrants in CA, did what the OP wants to do. There are plenty of Indian Americans in the news who have gone the route the OP wants to.

    OP- do some research online and present some of those people of Indian ancestry who have been prominent in your desired field. Finishing HS in the US I presume you have an immigration status not tied to school/work. Indian engineers seem to be a dime a dozen these days- Indians who excel in social sciences are gems.

    btw- sons (and daughters) do disappoint parents. Our honors math major son added comp sci instead of grad school and works very successfully as a software engineer. Our hopes were the advanced degree given his abilities but have since learned he is likely better off. He is intellectually challenged and enjoying his work it seems. H's cousin got two masters in fields related to his current job- successful. Just because one is able to do the math/science does not mean they should. For me, an undergrad chemistry major, engineering is not that an esteemed/elite major (sorry engineers).

    I like the last line in post # 17.

    It sounds like you have an army of posters here who could help your cause. Perhaps showing them your thread will aid your cause. Feel free to PM any of us.
    edited June 21
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