So… you’re thinking of changing your major. Perhaps you had a summer experience that made you rethink your career path, or maybe you declared a major before you found your passion. Often it is through the course of learning that we discover our true interests; after all, you can’t expect to choose a molecular biology major if you haven’t had any exposure to molecular biology before your junior year of college. And yet, if molecular biology captures your imagination like nothing else—and it’s a growing, profitable career field—it might be a grave mistake NOT to change your major!
Whatever your reasons for wanting to make a change, there are several important considerations to think about before heading to the registrar’s office. To begin with, how closely related are the fields you are switching from and to? Making a switch within the liberal arts or from a scientific or technical field to the liberal arts is usually easier to do than switching majors within technical fields or from the liberal arts to a technical field. Furthermore, switching between closely related fields in the liberal arts is easier than switching between disparate fields.
Perhaps the biggest factor to consider when deciding whether to change your major is how far along your original path you’ve gone. If you’re starting your junior year and a change in major means two years of hustling to meet your requirements but no extra time or money… well, then, go for it! If you’re a senior, however, or discover that changing your major would mean adding a significant burden to your wallet or your calendar, then you’ve got a much more difficult decision to make.
If this describes your situation, then here are a few questions to ask yourself:
• How will changing my major change my income potential?
• How will changing your major affect your finances while you are in school?
• What is the negative consequence of not changing my major?
• What are my reasons for wanting to change majors?
• On a scale of 1-10, with 1 = want to cry thinking about it and 10 = want to sing like Mary Poppins thinking about it, how do you feel about your current major? Using the same scale, how do you feel about your prospective new major?
• What are the top 3 reasons behind your scores for the previous question?
Discuss these questions—and their answers—with your advisor and anyone else you trust to help you plan the future—parents, friends, and professors. Take the perspective of someone who has been around the block a few times, add it to your own, and evaluate from there.
In closing, if you are a dedicated and ambitious student, you may wish to have the best of both worlds—consider completing a double major, or finishing your original degree while taking classes in your new field, then applying to graduate programs in your new area of interest. Most college graduates these days stray far from the traditional pattern of getting a job in their chosen field and staying there. If you concentrate on more than one strength in college, you’re likely to use both at different times in the future, or even combine them (culinary arts + physics = molecular gastronomy; psychology + sports medicine = holistic therapist for athletes)! After all, while a major may heavily influence your career path, it doesn’t define it… only you can do that.
Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
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