Before you even get accepted into college, university applications ask you to indicate your prospective major. Picking an area to study for the next four years is easy for that person who has been using her Legos to construct monuments from the age of four, or for that person who has always been opinionated and has seen every episode of Law and Order. For most of us, though, the task isn’t as simple. We really have to look past the now and think about ourselves in the future.
What do we really see ourselves doing for the rest of our lives?
Especially as a freshman coming right out of high school, the transition can be just as difficult academically as it is emotionally. Jerome Reed, a graduate student advisor in the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communication, said that one of the main reasons he sees students come in to change their major is because they don’t anticipate how hard it’s going to be and they can’t handle the amount of stress that the specific major puts on them. These harder classes usually come during students’ second year, once they start taking courses towards the major rather than pre-requisite classes.
Colleges are constantly adding new majors to lists that already have more than 100 options to choose from. It’s a curse in disguise. Looking at pamphlets with endless columns of majors to pick from is overwhelming when most of us can’t even decide whether we want Chipotle or Chick Fil A for dinner.
However, there’s a new track that more students are choosing: exploratory. According to the University of Florida listing, the exploratory classification gives students the freedom to experiment with courses that might help them choose a major. But Reed had a different thought. “Going in with an undeclared major, or choosing the exploratory route, only lets you take cut and dry general education classes,” Reed said.
In his opinion, these basic classes may not help you figure out what exactly you’re interested in. His advice to students who are on the fence of choosing majors is to get out of the “school element” and try something that simulates the real world. Try finding an internship opportunity with a local newspaper or business, or even join a professional student organization on campus. These low commitment options will save you time and money as switching majors could mean that some earned credits would essentially go to waste.
Still, within the exploratory track there are three different routes a student can take: science engineering, social behaviors or humanities. Assistant Director Academic Advisor for the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Nicholas Mrozinske said that when students decide on exploratory, they take more intense introduction general education classes as opposed to easy general education classes that most students take. He also said that students will find majors that they didn’t realize existed. “Most students have this concept coming from high school of what majors are, but they don’t really know what majors really are,” Mronzinske said. “There are some 140 [at UF] and they know about three ‘found majors.’”
One of the most important things to keep in mind when deciding a major is that your major doesn’t equal your career. Mronzinske said he sometimes advises students that they don’t need to change their major, but instead talk to people working in the field and ask them, “what did you do to get here?” While you may see changing your major as only setting you back one semester, during that extra semester you could be moving onto the next opportunity outside of the classroom like doing research or finding a hands-on internship; these are the things that will help you more on your resume in the long run.
And if you’ve found a career path that you truly love, but seem to be struggling with the classes required, talk to your advisor. More often than not, there are alternative ways to achieve the same end goal.
Should I Break Up with My Major?
Remember reading that long list of majors at orientation? You probably felt more than a little overwhelmed. Not to mention, your parents were probably breathing down your neck to choose engineering when all you really wanted was to study dance. After you’ve spent some time in your major, and you’re not sure if it’s the best fit, you may want to reevaluate that major decision.
Do you ever ask yourself: “Am I in this for all the wrong reasons?”
If a student chooses a major based on his or her parent’s expectations, or some other outside influence, that’s a big sign he or she needs to drop that major in the grease and pick up something he or she really loves, explained Dr. Diane Miller, director of Undergraduate Services at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Another hint you’re on the wrong path is performing poorly in one of the preliminary courses. Continuing on to the higher-level courses will only make matters worse because they build on skills you haven’t mastered from the lower levels. For example, if you’re on the pre-med track but are struggling to pass chemistry, you may want to consider re-evaluating your choice of major.
Sometimes students choose a major because the complementary career field seems lucrative. But what if finance isn’t for you? Here’s the deal: the more passionate you are about your studies, the more likely you are to succeed. And don’t be fooled— there are money making opportunities in every field.
“My advice is to go with your heart and passion. Too often we feel pressured to do the pragmatic or practical thing, and for some people, that works, but for many of us, that doesn’t capture our imaginations or kindle a spark of passion,” said Dr. Stephanie A. Smith, an English professor at the University of Florida. “Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, ask yourself, what gets you up? What keeps you up? And see if you can find a major that motivates [you].”
If all this sounds familiar, and your intuition is telling you you’re on the wrong path, then consider a change. Know that you’re not alone, says Brian Glankler, director of First Year and Undeclared Advising Services at Kennesaw State University. He estimated that most undergraduate students will change their majors anywhere between one and three times. But before you switch, make sure you research your new major. “Hopefully the main influencing factor would be that the student has done a self-evaluation of his interests, goals and aptitudes and researched various majors and career fields and has made an educated decision to change,” said Glankler.
Christoff Visscher, a junior at Hope College, changed his major from chemistry to theater after landing the lead in the fall play, Big Love. “Little by little, I could tell my love for chemistry was dying and my passion for acting was growing.” he said. This summer he diversified his experiences with a marketing internship at a consulting firm while actively networking in the theater field, in pursuit of his dream.
Meghan Bender, a recent graduate of Emory University, originally wanted to be a doctor but realized it wasn’t the career path for her, so she switched to anthropology. “Most of the major would have meant classes I didn’t like. But I went into the anthropology lab and I felt at home and happy surrounded by the past human-evolution species skulls,” she said.
Before you make the switch, meet with your advisor, who can help you decide what major may be a better fit for you. Try taking classes in a variety of fields and see if you have an interest in a particular subject. Or ask those who know you best. When you’re home over Thanksgiving break, stop in and see your old high school teachers. They’ll know your strong suits and can give you an idea of a major that draws from what you’re good at.
Just remember, college is a path of discovery—if you’re in the wrong major, making the change is a part of the journey.
*Article updated September 30, 2015 to include “Should I Break Up with My Major?”