Imagine how many sleepless nights Leonardo da Vinci would have had as an undergrad, pacing the hallways of his Florence dorm trying to decide whether he should stick to a painting major or switch to an engineering program.
With universities offering between 250 and 300 program choices, it is completely understandable that students at some point question their original direction. There are so many paths to choose from, that even Robert Frost would backtrack and change directions. The good news is that switching college majors is nothing like switching horses in midstream. A recent survey even found that 60 percent of undergrad students change their major at least one time before graduating.
My undergraduate, “two roads diverged in a yellow wood" moment came my junior year when I had to decide between two unique class opportunities that shared the same time slot. If I took an advanced conflict resolution seminar, I would be continuing down my original set path of a degree in political science. If I chose to take a writing workshop, I knew I was officially changing directions and solidifying my path in creative writing. I chose the latter, and in my mind, that made all the difference.
Switching majors is common and entirely doable; however, there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself before proceeding down that road.
Perhaps you find yourself checking out everything in the library on 18th century Russian literature while your statistics textbooks remain in shrink-wrap on your desk. Or maybe you find that you read the entire international business section of the newspaper every day before you ever think about chemistry. These are all signs that your academic interests may have changed.
Following your intellectual heart is a good reason to change majors. However, you have to ask yourself whether you are just dabbling in an intellectual curiosity, or whether this is a path that will help you get closer to an ultimate goal.
Researching the percentage of graduates in your major that get hired immediately following graduation or salary projections in a particular field are important things to think about. However, if these headlines are driving your decision then you may be switching for the wrong reason. By chasing numbers and statistics, you may just be setting yourself up to be in the same indecisive boat further down the road, as you will find that these projections alone will not help you get through your daily coursework.
Just because you are having trouble in chemistry does not mean you need to abandon your dream of doing cancer research. Changing majors is not a Band-Aid to place over bad grades in a semester. Remember why you chose the major in the first place, and ask yourself if those original interests have shifted.
There may be financial consequences and a change to your projected graduation date if switching a major requires extra credit hours. There is also a lot of added stress if you find that you cannot build upon your previous major and feel as though you are starting over. Determine if changing your major is necessary in order to get to your ultimate goal, or whether minoring or taking a few classes in your new found passion will accomplish the same.
Your academic advisor will outline your path to graduation with your new major and also make you aware of the paperwork you need to do to initiate the switch. You should also set up an appointment to speak with a faculty member in the new major of interest. They will give you a deeper understanding of your academic path and the kinds of classes that are offered.
Telling all of your family and friends does not fully constitute declaring your new major. You may have to submit an application or portfolio, or meet certain academic requirements before you are able to change majors.
Don’t assume that you have changed majors just because you started taking classes in that field. Confirm with the academic office that all paperwork has been processed.
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Driscoll, E. How to Effectively and Efficiently Change Majors. (2012). Retrieved from FOX Business Network
University of Buffalo: Undergraduate Academic Advising. (2014). Retrieved from Undergraduate Academic Advising