So What Are You Studying Exactly?


Everyone who is in university or knows someone in university knows that one of the first questions asked is “What are you studying?” Everyone majoring in Metropolitan Studies at New York University knows that the response is a complicated yet rehearsed one. Instead of the straightforward response many have such as Politics, Math, Literature, or the sciences, I believe that Metropolitan Studies was designed to strike a conversation. As a previous Math major, my answer would create one of two responses: “Oh I hated math,” or “Wow you must be smart,” but the questioner would always then stop talking to me. On the contrary, the Metropolitan Studies major generates many questions, so I’ve decided to answer them here.

While the name seems confusing, Metropolitan studies is, surprise!, exactly what it sounds like: the study of metropolitan areas (a metropolis). At New York University, this major focuses on the historical and contemporary study of urban development and planning. Under the “What is Metropolitan Studies?” section on the website, one of the goals of the program includes: understanding processes of urban and regional development, the major institutions of urban life, urban social movements, urban cultural dynamics and the socio-environmental consequences of worldwide urbanization. Even with these clarifications, there are still questions about what the major means or leads to. This is because, instead of the straight-forward Politics —> Law School, or Education —> Teacher, or Pre-Med Biology —> Med School, Metropolitan Studies is simply an umbrella major for many different interests. The tricky part about the major is where people take their undergraduate studies. Because the major is so broad, graduates can go into law, education, journalism, social work, city planning, public administration, or what I want to go into: economic development.

Economic development is one of the more complicated subcategories of economics, because it includes the development of human capital, infrastructure, health, safety, literacy, educational attainment levels, and other initiatives. Versus many other sub-categories of economics, economic development is both the quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy, and differs from the subcategory of economic growth. Economist Amartya Sen writes that “economic growth is one aspect of the process of economic development” and that is because economic growth is the eventual rise in the GDP of a country, while economic development has the aim of improving the standard of living of a city.

While there are still many aspects of metropolitan studies and economic development left out, I hope this somewhat introduced the two subjects.


For more information on the Metropolitan Studies program at NYU:

For an overview to economic development:

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