Declaring a major in college isn’t a minor decision, but that doesn’t mean students can’t change their minds further along in a college career. How to change your major? After soul searching and planning, talk with your academic advisor.
In recent years, nearly a third of undergrads changed their major at least once while pursuing a degree, the U.S. Department of Education has reported. And some of those changed their major more than once.
The decision to change majors in college can be overwhelmingly stressful for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Many students do change their major, and all it takes is some strategic planning and keeping up communications with the university.
First, Declaring a Major
Many colleges and universities ask undeclared students to choose a major by the end of their sophomore year. That’s because many students spend the first year or two taking general education classes.
Once a student is ready to declare a major, the official process will vary school by school. Generally, a student will need to schedule a meeting with their assigned academic advisor, and might need to meet with a department advisor for their chosen major.
In a department or advisor meeting, students will review their academic progress and roughly outline the rest of the required courses they need in order to complete their major.
These courses and their timing aren’t set in stone, but it can help give students an idea of how heavy their course load will be until graduation, and set expectations for how long it’ll take them to complete the degree.
From there, the request to declare a major needs to be approved by that specific department or college. That might be as informal as a meeting or as formal as an application.
Possible Reasons to Change a Major
Deciding to change majors is a personal choice. There’s no one sign for all students. In fact, a combination of factors may inspire a switch.
While not an exhaustive list, here are a few reasons a student might feel it’s a good idea to change majors:
• More excitement about a different area of study. Maybe a computer science student is more excited by a single art history elective than anything else on their schedule. If they dread every class, but the elective, it might be time to change majors. Of course, a major isn’t only about passion for the subject, but that does come into play. When nearly every class is boring, it might be time for a change.
• Bad grades. College courses should be challenging, but if a student is regularly failing, or just barely passing required courses, it might be time to consider a different major. Not only does it indicate that the area of study might be outside someone’s talents, but bad grades can also jeopardize graduation and completing the degree on time. If a student is giving a course her all and still coming up short, it might be time to consider alternatives.
• Really, really good grades. This might sound counterintuitive, but if courses aren’t challenging, then the major might not be the best fit. If a student feels bored in class but continues to ace the coursework, it might be a good idea to look at other majors or consider a double major or minor.
• Money. Selecting a major is often the delicate balance between something loved and something that leads to a career post-graduation. Picking a major solely because it could mean big bucks after college could lead to regrets down the line. Remember that post-grad life should feel fulfilling, too.
• An awful internship. Now this can be a little tricky. If students end up hating an internship related to their major, they should try to evaluate if it was the work or the management that they disliked. It might have been a poor fit culture wise but a good fit workwise.
If any or all of the above sound familiar, it might be time to think about changing majors. Additionally, it might just be helpful along the way to evaluate satisfaction with a major, even if you decide to continue in that area of study.
Considerations Before Changing a Major
If it feels like it may be time to change majors, here are a few considerations to keep in mind before crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s:
• What courses transfer? If the desired new major is far outside the current area of study, a student might have to basically restart college. For example, a psychology major who changes tack to engineering might not have much overlap on core curriculum. Just like mapping out courses when declaring a major the first time, students should consider doing the same before changing majors. It can show how much work or courses will be required.
• Will it cost more? Depending on school pricing or area of study, changing majors might end up costing a student more in the long run. That could be from additional course fees or taking more classes to catch up over the summer. Once the course load is mapped out for a major change, crunching the numbers is a good idea.
• Will it take longer? It may not be possible to graduate in four years if the new major is vastly different or the change comes late in an academic career. More time at school could mean more loans. (Then again, less than half of bachelor’s degree earners graduate within four years.)
• Will it line up with post-graduate goals? It’s important to enjoy an area of study, but it’s also important to ensure it aligns with jobs a student wants after graduating. If a premed student switches to international relations but hates the job prospects, that might be a poor choice.
Time, money, or heavy course loads don’t have to squelch a change in major, but they should be factors a student is aware of before making the switch.
How to Change a Major
The reality is, deciding to change majors is likely harder than the actual process of doing so. Changing majors won’t be so different than declaring a major in the first place.
First, a student should schedule a meeting with their current academic advisor to talk through the choice. The advisor may be able to offer insight or even provide course recommendations in the new major.
Typically, the student is required to fill out a short form and have their current as well as new academic advisor sign it to make the major change official.
Depending on the college or area of study, a student might have to apply to the specialty school on campus they wish to transfer to as well.
How to change your major? It requires thought and a talk with your academic advisor. Changing majors can alter a lot about the college experience, from post-grad plans to course load.
One thing that doesn’t have to be a major drag? Financing. If federal student aid options don’t fill all of your needs, a private student loan can be an answer.
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