So, you came to college positive you wanted to study psychology, but now you’re not so sure.
Or, maybe you came to college thinking you were going to study biology, but took an amazing international relations course your sophomore year and now think you might be better suited to political science. Or, maybe you were even completely undecided to begin with, declared a major because you had to, and now you’re ready to try a different path.
Whatever your reasons, changing majors is a very normal part of the American college experience for many students, so don’t fret!
For some, changing majors is also an important part of the process of self-discovery. However, before you take the plunge, you should be aware of the potential risks and challenges that come with this decision. The timing of changing your major can be tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to launch into a different major without knowing everything you can about what it will entail. On the other hand, you don’t want to delay the process too long, since the later you wait, the quicker you will have to make up for lost time.
Consider the following when you are thinking of changing your major:
1. Check the requirements for your new major thoroughly.
Make a list of all the courses you will need to take to complete the major, and chart them out over your remaining years at the school. You may discover that you are unable to complete the requirements in the time you have left, or that your class schedule will be tightly packed. It might not be fun to be taking seven courses during the spring semester of your senior year, or to have to graduate late because you need to complete requirements, so take this into careful consideration if you decide to switch majors.
2. Make sure you are willing to start over.
Unless your newly selected major is closely related to your original major, you will most likely have to go back and take first-level/freshman courses to complete requirements. Some of the classes in your original major may count towards your new major, or you may be able to petition the department to allow those courses to count for your new major, but you can’t depend on that, especially if the subject is significantly different from your original major. That being said, remember that you may be able to express your varied interests and experience by using your old credits for a minor.
3. Take more than one course in your intended new major.
Many people switch majors because they took an amazing Intro to Psych or Political Science course and get so inspired that they feel compelled to change majors. Often, departments deliberately choose their most charismatic professors to teach these kinds of courses, especially those directed at non-majors, to attract them to the major or get them interested in their field of study in general. It is possible that not all courses within the major will be as interesting and engaging to you as the course that inspired you to switch, so if you have time, try another class within the major that has a different size, professor, subject, and format (lecture vs. seminar, for example) before you make your final decision. Sometimes, classes on subjects far from your current major are just fun because they are novel and engage your mind in a new and exciting way, but that novelty may fade as you delve deeper into the major. You may not be interested in the subject matter beyond the work you did for that one class.
4. Meet with the head of your new department.
The head of your new department will know more than anyone about your new major, so schedule a meeting with him or her, and come armed with every conceivable question you may have about the major. Not only will this help you inform your decision, but you will also likely need to obtain the department head’s approval to change majors. Since you will almost certainly be dealing with him or her in the future as the head of your new department, it’s helpful to develop a good relationship with him or her as soon as you can!
5. Talk with other students who major in your new course of study.
While the department head may offer good insight, he or she will naturally be biased and may not be able to provide an accurate perspective on what it’s like to actually take classes and complete coursework as a student within the major. Ask your colleagues questions that the department head might not be able to answer: Are all of the professors as interesting as the one who taught my intro class? Is the general course load really time-consuming and/or labor-intensive? What is the most rewarding part about studying this subject? What are the biggest challenges you face as a major in this subject?
6. Consider how your choice will affect your future.
Aside from the practical considerations of scheduling and coursework, ask yourself what opportunities for professional development and growth this major will offer you. Do they offer funding for projects? How will your new major relate to what you might want to do with your life after college? What opportunities do graduates in your major have? Will your new department help connect you with internships in your new field of interest?
Once you’ve taken some time to consider the above, and you’re sure making the switch is right for you, contact your dean, registrar, or new department head about initiating the process.