It's OK to Major in Course 15

by Kamil Mafoud, MIT '16 Course 15

MIT is one of the greatest universities in the world. It’s hard to keep track of our many accolades and it feels like there’s a new report every other week ranking us #1. To nobody’s surprise, we consistently rank among the best for STEM departments. What sometimes goes unnoticed is that we also rank among the best for many other departments including Management (Science), Economics, and Urban Planning. This university’s success across a broad set of fields reflects its commitment to excelling in every aspect.

But within all of this, there is a fundamental problem - one that inhibits the potential of our great university.

When I started MIT, I was really interested in entrepreneurship. In my senior year of high school, a couple of friends and I started up a company called AppointmentStatus, a platform by which you could connect doctors and patients to facilitate scheduling. I knew that my interest in entrepreneurship would fit right in with MIT’s culture of innovation.

As a result, I came in interested in majoring in Course 15, but as soon as I arrived on campus I was quickly talked out of Course 15 by everyone I met. They told me that course 15 was a “joke” and that I would be better suited studying computer science at MIT. If I really wanted, I could take Course 15 classes on the side.

So I declared Course 6 as my major and started taking the standard classes (i.e. 6.01, 6.042, 6.006). After taking these classes, I realized I wasn’t really excited by the direction I was heading with Course 6. I also started to become more interested in finance. But again, instead of pursuing Management Science, I was convinced to switch to Course 18. I was told that math would provide me with a quantitative background, which would be beneficial to a career in finance. I ended up with quite a few Course 18 classes under my belt. In fact, I remained Course 18 up until the beginning of my senior year.

It was at that point, even though I only needed to take a few more classes in Course 18 to complete the major, that I realized how fed up I was. I never really looked forward to any of my math classes and I found myself looking for the easiest way to complete the major. I was essentially trying to game the system just to receive the degree.

But it was not what I was passionate about. It was too theoretical for me and not aligning with what I could see myself doing in the future. This was my identity crisis. Each day I remained Course 18, I was forcing myself to be someone that I was not.

The switch to Course 15 was a huge relief as it helped me realign who I was with what I was doing. Unfortunately, I still had to deal with the stigma of being an MIT student studying Course 15. Many of my friends and peers are studying something STEM-related and sometimes it feels as though you are looked down upon for taking an alternative path; but, what works for them might not work for you.

Be yourself and do what makes you happy. MIT is far too stressful of a place to do otherwise. I do not regret the decisions I have made throughout my four years as I have learned many valuable lessons from them; however, I hope others can learn from my mistakes and avoid some of the confusion I endured.

Though I am graduating in Course 15, I can still boast that I have taken classes across a broad range of departments including Course 6, Course 11, Course 14, and Course 18. In fact, I wish I had taken classes in more departments. My education goes beyond what is written on my degree and I don’t need the validation of declaring a double major on my resume.

Truthfully, the courses I have taken in Course 6 and 18 are not particularly relevant for what I ambition to do. So don’t pretend to be someone you are not. Just because you got into MIT does not mean you have to choose a STEM major, and the path that your friends take here should not dictate yours.

I have found more value in classes like International Capital Markets (15.447) and Options and Futures (15.437), for example, which were relevant to my sophomore internship in fixed income trading; or in Finance Theory II (15.402) and Accounting (15.501), which helped me smoothly navigate my investment banking internship.

Besides their usefulness, Course 15 classes have also been far more interesting to me. I loved learning the economics behind investing in commercial real estate in Real Estate Finance (15.426) and this semester (even as a senior counting down the days until graduation) I’ve jumped out of bed for my 8:30am class in Sloan to discuss the strategic rationale of mergers and acquisitions and the legal complexities in a hostile takeover battle.

Once you get to the real world, what your degree says doesn’t matter. It does help establish credibility but your success ultimately boils down to how hard you work and how well you apply your intelligence. Having a degree from MIT certainly helps, but it, alone, does not promise you a successful career.

I would say that I have been fairly successful at MIT. I have held leadership positions across different organizations at MIT, excelled in internships (mostly in finance), and upon graduation I will be starting my career at Morgan Stanley. I am not telling you all this to boast of my accomplishments, but to point out reality - that you will be happier chasing your dreams than chasing validation.

Kamil is a graduating senior in Course 15. He is a former director of the SBC Finance Focus Group and an incoming investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley.