Whether you’re headed to college at 18 or seeking a degree at 38, landing on a major can be one of life’s toughest choices. Perhaps that’s why at some of the nation’s most well-known universities, more than half of students switch their major. In fact, many schools have replaced the term “undeclared” with “exploratory” to shine a more positive light on the fact that for most of us, trial and error is a completely acceptable way to decide on the right major. Long story short, if you’re contemplating making a switch, you aren’t alone. And we’re here to help with a checklist to consider before taking the leap.
I’M SURE MY CURRENT MAJOR ISN’T FOR ME.
Dr. Susan Davis-Ali, founder of Leadhership1, author, and faculty member of the Carlson School of Management says that if you’re unhappy with your major, be sure your unhappiness isn’t stemming from something else. Says Davis-Ali, “I always discourage people from making major decisions from a place of anger or unhappiness. If you are unhappy with other things going on in your life right now, changing your major won’t change your unhappiness.”
It’s also important to make sure you’re not simply trying to escape a negative experience related to your current major. Patrick O’Brien, professor and author of Making College Count, reminds students to zero in even more on the source of their dissatisfaction. “Just make sure you do it thoughtfully—not out of despair because you had a bad semester, a bad professor, or are just ‘running’ from something you don’t like,” offers O’Brien.
I’VE RESEARCHED MY NEW MAJOR. A LOT.
Changing majors can be a great way to get yourself on track for a career you love, but it’s not a decision to be made lightly. It’s in your—and your wallet’s—best interest to get it right the second time, and doing your homework beforehand can really help. Talk to your academic advisor, ask peers and professors who specialize in your desired major, and read about the subject matter. Fritz Grupe, creator of MyMajors.com and an emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Nevada, uses nursing as an example. “Nursing may sound attractive because you like to help people, but nursing students take the same demanding math and science curriculum as pre-med students, and the work is often technical and not for every kindhearted soul,” says Grupe.
I KNOW WHAT I’M IN FOR FINANCIALLY.
Depending on what year you’re changing your major and how many credits you can utilize from your past coursework, your pivot could mean extra semesters. And that could mean a lot of extra money. Be sure to double-check prerequisite requirements and confirm the classes you need are offered in the correct semesters for your timeline. If your switch does require extra school, grab a calculator and figure out exactly how much more of an investment you’re looking at.
Remember that DSST offers extremely affordable tests that count toward college credit. If you’ve obtained knowledge outside of the classroom that could help with your new major’s requirements, these tests could be a valuable tool for managing the switch. Just be sure to confirm that your school accepts DSST test credits.
I’VE TALKED IT OUT.
In addition to gathering information from other students and school faculty, your friends and family can be great sounding boards when you’re facing such an important decision. Run your rationale by them, and then listen carefully as they ask questions and offer insight. No one knows you better than your loved ones, and their perspectives will keep you grounded during the decision process.
I UNDERSTAND THAT MY MAJOR ISN’T EVERYTHING.
Yes, choosing the right major can give you a leg up when it comes to breaking into a field you love. But at the end of the day, it’s still just one big educated guess. Luckily, employers understand this and will sympathize with you if your major doesn’t line up exactly with the job description. In most cases, the soft skills you’ve developed, such as writing, collaborating, and speaking, will help you just as much as the subject on your degree. If you’ve realized it’s simply too late to switch, focus on these soft skills and be patient. Remember that work experience is the best teacher, and that grad school could be an option down the road.
Once you’ve checked all the above boxes, you should have all the knowledge and confidence you need to make your decision. And remember, if this exercise convinces you that you want to stick with your current major, that’s great too. It’s all about exploring your long-term goals, and coming up with the best plan to reach them. Good luck!