At the beginning of my junior year of college, I was posed with a difficult decision. I was extremely unhappy with the major I chose upon entering college, but I was afraid that there would be consequences if I switched majors. I had already put so much time and effort into my original major and changing felt like I was throwing all of that away. Finally, I decided to get advice from a college advisor and do some research on my own and that’s how I was able to make my tough decision without any fear or regrets. If you are in the same conflicted position that I was in, or even just curious about the process of changing majors, here are some tips and important things I learned that helped me make the switch with confidence.
Pay Attention to the Signs
Sometimes the indicators that you might be in the wrong major aren’t easy to recognize. The signs that I needed to make a switch started out small, and my transition from a biology major to an English major was actually very gradual. By the middle of my sophomore year, I hadn’t taken a single biology class that I had enjoyed. At first, I thought that it was just because they were “weeder” classes (i.e. classes that are designed to be extra hard in order to filter out students that aren’t serious about the major). But I’ve always loved literature, so I started taking English classes on top of my science courses in order to have something to look forward to and make school work more bearable. Eventually, I began daydreaming about having a schedule full of literature classes and thinking about how that would help me actually enjoy academic life in college.
If you find yourself experiencing similar things to me, like fantasizing about different types of classes, researching courses that you would rather take, or feeling like you picked your major too hastily, it might be time to consider your options. Marina, a fellow UCSB student who switched from communications to film studies, experienced a similar change. When explaining how she realized that a different major would make her happier, she told me “communications lead me to film. I was afraid to commit to film studies at first, but I found that all of my favorite the parts of my first major—the only parts I enjoyed—were all linked to film.” So if you find yourself focusing more heavily on something outside of your current course of study, it may be time to consider switching.
Keep an Open Mind
Picking a major in college is the first step to choosing a career path—and making the choices for each one is a delicate balance between selecting something that will both make you happy and allow you to support yourself. So, make sure you look into all your options. Research all of the departments and majors offered at your school because there’s a good chance you’ll discover something that you never considered. As my favorite professor put it, “if you’re dreaming of being an engineer, and you’re already inclined in that direction, of course you’ll try to major in engineering. But, there are a lot of majors that aren’t all that familiar to students until they get to college. Not everyone who ends up in anthropology or philosophy spends high school dreaming of it—but lots of people find it fascinating when they encounter it in college.” So just because you want to be a writer, for example, doesn’t mean you have to major in English. Look up some people you admire on LinkedIn and find out what they studied, see what courses are required for several different majors, and think about what you enjoy and how you can apply what you would be learning to the job you want.
Don’t Be Afraid of Asking for Help
Changing majors is pretty scary, especially if you’re doing all the research by yourself. I found myself overwhelmed by all of the online paperwork provided by the different departments that just posed more questions rather than resolving them. If you’re feeling lost, going to an advisor can help cut the amount time it takes to understand the transfer process in half. Having someone guide you through the procedure also helps keep you from second guessing if you are doing things correctly. But advisors aren’t the only source of support.
During one of my first English classes, I bonded with the professor. At the end of my last year of college, I may not be taking any of his classes, but I still see him every week to chat and get advice on a whole range of things. This professor has helped me make just as many academic decisions as any college counselor. Teachers have also seen many students come and go from their department and they are good determiners of whether the major is a good fit. When in doubt, go seek out professors or students in the major that you are considering. They can give you insight into what the major is like beyond the basic descriptions on your school website.
Consider Cash and Careers
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Your choice in major does not lock you into a specific career. One thing I did not realize before researching changing majors was that you can apply to most higher education with any major so long as you complete the prerequisite classes. Part of the reason I was so hesitant to even consider changing departments was because I was afraid that I would not be able to apply to veterinary school as an English major. However, fortunately, that is not the case; so long as you take the required classes for, say, medical school (or any similar higher education), your major does not determine whether or not you can apply. If anything, it shows that you are a well-rounded candidate.
Another matter to consider is that changing majors can extend your graduation timeline—which means you may end up paying for more than four years of college. Determine if you are changing within the same department or outside of it, like I did. If you are transferring majors within the same department, there is a good chance that some or all of your credits will transfer. However, if the switch is to an entirely different one, like from science to humanities, as was my case, there is a good chance that none of your classes will count towards your new major and you’ll have to start from scratch, prolonging the time you’re in school.
Reflect on Your Motivation to Switch
Statistics across the board show that a majority of undergraduate students change majors at least once, if not more. However, it isn’t reasonable to be changing them as quick as switching TV channels.
My professor said it best when he told me, “If you are thinking about changing your major, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that doing it will have the effect you want. Changing because you suddenly find the subject hard isn’t wise—they’re all hard, and they all have difficult moments when you have to take a tough required course. Likewise, deciding that you need to change majors because you’re bored with the one you chose isn’t that great an idea—every discipline has spots where it’s more work than fun, and you might be feeling bored with school in general, rather than the subject in particular.”
One of my best friends, Rachel, experienced this exact situation. After she took the introductory class for the major that she had chosen upon entering college, she decided to switch majors based solely on her lack of interest in the subject matter of that one class. Now as she is set to graduate, she reflects that she’s “happy with [her] majors and it ended up working out but [she] wishes [she] had waited it out longer instead of judging a major on the introduction class. An introduction class doesn’t represent the whole major.” And on that note, take a breath, reflect on your situation, and don’t sweat it. You’ll find the right fit for you.
Have you ever changed majors? Let us know what you learned from your experience in the comments below!
Featured photo by Marisa Ganley.