Should You Change Your Major?
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- One-third of undergrads change majors on the way to earning a bachelor's degree.
- Around 10% of college students switch majors more than once.
- Changing majors can open up new career opportunities but also adds time and money to a degree.
Chances are good that if you're in college, you've either changed majors or know someone who has.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of all U.S. college students switch majors before earning a bachelor's degree. And around 1 in 10 students changes majors more than once.
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So should you change your major? For some students, switching majors makes sense. A different major could be a better fit for your career goals or help you get into graduate school. Changing majors might even be the difference between earning a degree and dropping out.
Other students find that changing majors means pushing back their graduation date and taking out more loans. In these situations, switching might not make sense.
The following tips, scenarios, and questions can help you decide whether you should stick with your current major or switch.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Switching Majors?
Before switching majors, undergrads should consider the benefits and drawbacks — and whether their reasons for changing make sense. When should you change majors, and when should you stick with your current major?
3 Reasons to Change Your Major
- You have specific career goals that your new major can help you reach. For example, maybe you're interested in finance and decide an economics major will better match your professional goals than your current biology major.
- You're struggling with your major requirements and worry about not graduating. There's a reason students switch out of STEM majors at a higher rate than those pursuing non-STEM majors.
- Your new major offers better mentorship opportunities, internships, or other support services that will improve your college experience or help you fulfill your educational and career goals.
3 Reasons NOT to Change Your Major
- The new major will not impact your post-graduation goals but will mean retaking classes and borrowing more student loans.
- You're within a few credits of graduating and you're not ready to leave college. If you can't imagine leaving school, consider looking into postbaccalaureate programs or graduate school. Switching majors will only add time and money to your degree.
- You dislike a particular professor or course in your current major. Every major has drawbacks, such as a dull prerequisite course or a professor with a poor reputation.
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Key Questions to Ask Before Changing Majors in College
Should you switch to a different major? The answer depends on your circumstances. Before declaring a new major, ask yourself the following questions.
Can You Reach Your Goals With Your Current Major?
Has it always been your dream to apply to medical school? To work in education? Ask yourself if you can reach your professional and academic goals with your current major.
For example, switching from physics to social work may make sense if you're set on a career in human services.
If your goals recently shifted, consider whether you need to change majors. Liberal arts majors, for example, prepare graduates for a variety of career paths. And humanities majors report some of the highest MCAT scores of those applying to med school.
Will Changing Majors Affect Your Graduation Date?
Switching majors often means more classes and more credits to graduate, so consider how the change will affect your graduation date. Will it mean another semester or even another year in college? Can you apply credits you earned for your original major as general education or elective credits?
The answer might come down to the switch itself. Some majors have completely different gen ed requirements. Going from a BS to a BA, for instance, can mean taking a year of language classes.
In contrast, switching between more closely related disciplines or changing majors earlier on in your college career might not affect your graduation at all.
Can You Double Major or Add a Minor Instead?
If you're close to finishing the requirements for your current major, consider adding a minor or double majoring in another field. That might affect your graduation date, but it could also open up new career or grad school possibilities.
A double major can pay off on the job market, too. Research shows that graduates with double majors can earn more than those with a single major. It can also help candidates stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.
Will Changing Majors Cost You More Money?
Adding time to your degree doesn't just mean reprinting your graduation announcements — it can also add to the total cost of your degree. For example, if you need to complete an extra year of courses to graduate, you're on the hook for another year of tuition.
Graduating with more debt can limit your choices more than a new major can broaden them. So carefully consider whether a new major is worth the cost.
How to Change Your Major: 5 Essential Steps
Pursuing a major change in college isn't always as easy as it sounds. The following steps can help you change your college major successfully.
Step 1: Meet With an Academic Advisor
Before switching majors, meet with an academic advisor to talk through your options and how the change will affect your graduation requirements. Gen ed requirements for your old major might not apply for your new one, so make sure you discuss these factors in detail.
Step 2: Talk to Career Services
Your major might have less to do with your career opportunities than you think. Schedule a meeting with your school's career services and talk about your options with the current major and your prospective new major.
Step 3: Run the Numbers
Calculate how many additional credits you'll need to earn and how much that will cost. Then, decide whether the benefits of changing majors are worth the extra time and money.
Step 4: Learn From Current Majors
Find undergrads majoring in the field you're considering and talk to them. Ask about the classes they're taking and have taken, the faculty, and the requirements for the major. Look for any red flags that could cause problems down the line for you, like a noninclusive department.
Step 5: Take Classes in Your New Major
Make sure you like the new major by taking classes first and familiarizing yourself with the discipline. Talk to professors about career options and gather as much information as possible before officially making the switch.
Frequently Asked Questions About Changing Majors
How many college students change their major?
Around 1 in 3 college students changes majors on their way to earning a bachelor's degree, according to 2017 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Furthermore, around 1 in 10 undergrads changes their major more than once. With nearly 17 million undergrads in the U.S., this means that millions of students change majors each year.
A BestColleges survey from January 2020 found that 3 in 5 (61%) college graduates would change their majors if they could go back and do it over again. Just over a quarter (26%) of those who would change their majors said they would do so primarily to pursue their passion.
What percentage of college students change their major?
Thirty-three percent of undergraduates at four-year institutions in the U.S. changed their majors, the National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2017. A slightly lower 28% of students pursuing associate degrees changed their majors in that same timeframe. Altogether, 30% of undergraduates in the U.S. change their majors at least once.
Some majors have even higher change rates. For example, more than half of declared math majors changed to a different major. In contrast, students in healthcare fields are the least likely to change majors.
When is it too late to change your major?
College students can change majors at any point in their college career. However, the sooner you change your major, the less impact the change will have on your graduation date.
Changing to a similar major with the same general education requirements may be less disruptive to your graduation timeline than if you were to switch from one type of degree to another (such as from a BA to a BS) or switch colleges within a university.
Before declaring a new major, meet with your academic advisor to discuss the impact changing majors could have on your graduation plan.