According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 80 percent of students in the United States change their major at least once. Higher than you thought? Surprisingly, the average college student will change majors at least three times throughout their college career. With statistics like those, one could assume the decision to change majors is a piece of cake.
Not so much.
We’re talking about a decision that will determine your future career; most likely alter your income level and potentially affect your overall happiness in the future. With that in mind, it’s normal to feel reluctant and second guess yourself.
I certainly did.
For the first two years of my college career, I attended the University of Alabama as an elementary education major. I chose this major specifically because I couldn’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a 3rd grade teacher. I was the girl who played ‘school’ in a room full of stuffed animal students (friendly reminder: the Ubind Academy is a judgment free zone). Midway through my sophomore year, I had finished my basic courses and had a handful of major-specific classes completed on my transcript. I was well on my way to being the proud recipient of a Bachelor of Science in Education degree.
It was nice while it lasted.
As I worked through classes that year, second thoughts began presenting themselves and as finals rolled around in the spring, my doubts had become far too prevalent to ignore. After years of certainty, I suddenly had no idea what college major I belonged in. All I knew was that it was no longer elementary education.
While the situation I just described is all too familiar for some of you, it is important to note that many college graduates obtained degrees in the very major they began with and – years later – are still happy and successful in their chosen career fields. For current college students, you may reach a point in your college career similar to the one I and countless others have experienced. Below, you’ll find a cheat sheet containing some important tips that are critical to consider before making any decisions on your major.
- It’s time to reevaluate yourself: Self-reflection is key because you need to know what interests you – what you like and what you don’t. You missed the target when choosing your first major and though it is common to change more than once, you should try to limit it as much as possible. Each time you start over, you risk losing credits that are no longer applicable to your new major and could end up taking much longer to complete college.
- Be smart: Consider the timing. Again, changing your major in some instances may mean losing the credits you have acquired up to that point in your college career. Typically, your chances of moving your credits and coursework to other programs of study are better if you are still within your first 60 credits. If you are well into your upper-level courses by the time you decide to change, you may end up kicking yourself over the time and money you spent completing them if the courses are no longer applicable to your new program.
- Weigh the options: Creating a pros and cons list will be helpful because it forces you to explore every avenue and deters impulsive decisions. A few questions to consider might include:
- Why do you want to change your major? (Are you reacting emotionally to a bad semester or making a rational decision in your best interest?)
- Does the program of study interest you? (Is it something you feel excited or passionate about?)
- Are you able and willing to take on the challenges this major presents that your previous program did not?
- What levels of stress exist in this major and career field? How well do you handle varying amounts of pressure?
- While weighing the options, you must understand the facts: When choosing a major, many students base decisions on the misconception that a career field is restricted only to those who majored in that particular field. Realistically, you can do any job with almost any major. Some careers do require specialized training and certification to perform or advance in the profession, but employers do not typically hire based on your major. Ideally, a potential job candidate will have ‘real-life’ experience in that field. Keep this in mind as you take breaks from school in the summer or around the holidays – this is an ideal time to build your professional experience through volunteer work or internships in your desired field.
- Finally and most importantly, follow your instinct: Ultimately, only you will know when you have landed in the right major. Likewise, only you are capable of determining if a particular major is not for you. College is a time for discovery, trial and error, mistakes and lessons learned. More than likely, it will take you a few tries to get it right – and that’s okay. You may be forced to take a few additional semesters or lose credits you worked hard to earn in the process of graduating. At the end of the day, it is critical that you keep trying until you find the right fit for you. Don’t let the uncertainty discourage you – trust me, when you find it, you’ll know.