College is a time of self-discovery, and with discovery comes change. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many students end up changing their major before they graduate.
According to Peter Vogt’s “Five Signs You Should Change Your Major,” published on Monster.com’s MonsterTRAK Web site, only 66 percent of college students pick their major because of their career interests. Other reasons include 7 percent for the career’s perceived earning potential and 6 percent followed their friends’ or family’s advice. 12 percent said they just sort of drifted into their major.
A senior who wishes to be referred to only as Jessica said she has changed her major five times.
“When I first got into college, everyone wants to be a doctor. I found out that the courses weren’t taught based on my kind of education courses, where they teach you different ways people learn, (so) I wasn’t successful in the science areas,” she said. “So I went into engineering, (and my) math didn’t cut it. Same principle: I just got weeded out.
“Then I went into architecture, and I really thrived there, but I found that I wanted to write more than I wanted to build. So I went into English. I thought about being a teacher, but I’d rather just do something where I can write.”
She is not alone. According to Vogt, six out of nine college students will change their major at least once. Because of this, USF is trying to find a way to get students into their major earlier and get them to stay there.
“In the fall, we started the TAPS (Tracking the Academic Progress of Students) program. It’s a new initiative to get students to declare their major earlier than they had done previously, and it’s very prescriptive,” said Sylvia Salter, director of the Center of Academic Advising. “Freshmen are encouraged to come in now and go directly into the major and be advised in the major, which sort of takes out the dilemma of waiting and trying to find out what they want to do. So they’re not at a disadvantage by declaring early and changing, so hopefully we won’t get as many major changes.
“I think increasingly now, students are coming from high school more prepared, and they know a little more of what they want to do and get into the majors and stay. That’s our hope.”
Many students fear that changing their major will add many years and a multitude of expenses to their college career. While this can be true, it depends on how many new classes need to be taken based on the new major. Earlier changes also greatly impact the repercussions.
“It depends on what they change from and to,” Salter said. “Naturally, if you’ve got maybe a fine arts major and they want to go from fine arts to education, it could add on a little bit because you have to do the minimum requirements in the new major. Changing late can be dangerous, changing early is not as bad.”
For Jessica, all of her changing around didn’t influence her graduation date at all.
“Actually, I’m still on track,” she said. “Because the College of English requires, like, 80 outside credit hours, all the crap I went through to find where I was at satisfied all those credits. I think I only have like 23 credit hours to get.”
The process of changing a major is actually quite simple, as long as students know what they want to change it to.
“The process of changing your major is really not that complicated. It takes a change-of-major form, which is available in the (advising) center and in all of the colleges,” Salter said. “And the process is initiated at the college level: If the student is declared, if they’re in business or nursing or arts and sciences, then that unit will process the change of major and then send them to the new major for advising. And if they’re undecided, which means they’re housed here, then they initiate the form here, and then we send them to business or to wherever they’re going.”
Jessica had to go through this, and she ran into a bit of trouble.
“Well, I was an undeclared undergrad, and then I got into engineering without any trouble, really,” she said. “But getting out of it was the hardest part. I had to go down to my undergrad guidance counselor, apply to be undeclared again, then I had to talk to about 50 people.”
However, because she didn’t have an idea of what she wanted to do, no one in advising could really help her.
“So once I had an idea, it was hunky-dory – everybody got it, it was great,” Jessica said. “I found out where I was supposed to go.”
There are a variety of reasons students change their major. However, to get a degree, the student must decide on one area. For some students who are entering college and have no idea what they want to do with their life, this can be scary. However, most students find that through taking different classes and talking to different people, they find what they are good at and what they will be satisfied doing for a career.
“If you don’t know when you first get into college, if you don’t know what you want to do or where you want to go, it’s OK, because you will find it,” Jessica said. “You’ll find it in your travels throughout college and the classes you take and the things that you learn in these classes. You’ll find yourself.”
Salter recommended enlisting the help of on-campus resources.
“See your adviser often,” Salter said. “Advisers are one of the best-kept secrets on this campus, and they know a lot about majors, and they can refer (students) to the proper places to get the information that they need.”
The point is that students have to choose. If students are still unsure about their decision after graduation, they can always come back for a master’s degree.
But, in the words of Salter, “There’s no major in undecided.”