Whether you’re feeling isolated in a male-dominated major or doubting whether your lifelong dream is still your dream, switching your major can seem like a fix to all your problems. Maybe the first one you picked was a mistake, or someone pressured you into it. Maybe you’ve been at it for two years and you’re starting to have a few doubts, but you don’t want to waste your hard work. How can you know you’re making the right decision this time around? Here are nine things to keep in mind while you’re deciding what to do—whether that means changing your major or not.
1. Is a specific major crucial to the job you want?
Not all jobs require a particular degree, and hiring managers often look more at the actual experience on your resume rather than the department on your diploma. Your clubs, extracurricular activities, internships and part-time jobs might already be helping you towards your career goals. On the other hand, if you want that competitive web developer job at Facebook or Google right out of undergrad, a computer science degree might be necessary. (Though, fun fact: a classics major might be good for med school, as long as you can fit in your science pre-requisites.)
This is also a great excuse to reach out for informational interviews with people in industries or companies you’re interested in. They’ve already been through what you’re dealing with—after all, hindsight is 20/20. They’ll be able to give you a real-world perspective and tell you how important those classes are in an actual workplace. Talking to seniors in your major and other majors can be really helpful, too. They may have switched majors themselves and know firsthand what it’s like to try to jumpstart a career.
2. Is your major a good fit for your personality?
This could be a classic case of “it seems perfect on paper,” but the day-to-day reality doesn’t mesh well with your natural talents and abilities. Maybe you’ve discovered that your major doesn’t unleash your creativity—or conversely, you need more logical structure. If you’re an introvert, business school’s ubiquitous group projects might sound like a nightmare—if you’re a people person, long nights coding alone in the computer science lab might drive you crazy. Think about what you loved to do as a kid, ask friends how they would describe you, and try online career aptitude quizzes (disclaimer: choose a site more scientifically sound than BuzzFeed).
"In time, you'll learn more about how you're naturally wired and you learn more about what really puts fuel in your soul,” says Steve Olsher, author of the New York Times bestselling book What Is Your WHAT? Discovering the ONE Amazing Thing You Were Born To Do. “Stop doing things that no longer bring you fulfillment. At the end of the day, I really think it just boils down to what your 'what' is, your what is really what is in your DNA.”
3. Are you just burnt out or bored?
There’s a big difference between lack of motivation and lack of passion. Make sure that changing your major is something you NEED, not just something you think might make you feel better in the moment. When you’re slogging through huge lecture intro classes, pulling long hours at your part-time campus job and trying to maintain a social life, it’s easy to become exhausted. Everyone gets tired of the grind sometimes—just don’t let it cloud your judgment. However, if you’re struggling in all your classes or going to bed miserable every night, it might be time to do something about it.
“I dreaded going to my classes,” says Hannah Yohnk, a junior at the University of Wisconsin. “Before the semester started, I was excited to take the classes that finally applied to my major. Once they started, I lost interest. I studied for hours, pulled all-nighters to try to understand the material and nothing made sense. This helped me realize that I wasn't studying the right thing.”
Jenna Bouquot, a junior at Kenyon College, agrees. “I was absolutely miserable,” she says, even though she’d planned for years on being a chemistry major. “I loved my professors and the students in my classes, but I could not get myself to engage in the material, no matter how hard I tried. At first, I thought it was just a bad semester, but by the spring of my sophomore year, I knew that I just wasn't passionate about the material I'm learning.”
If you fall into a pattern of failing classes, or nothing about the subject “clicks,” your current major may not be right for you. Hard work is important, but if that hard work never pays off, that’s a huge red flag.
4. Do you have time?
Four years can feel like a lifetime when you first step foot on campus, but your time at college is precious and limited. If graduating with your friends and classmates is important to you, understand that changing your major could require you to take extra-heavy course loads or summer school to finish “on time.” But if changing your major will keep you in classrooms long after you were originally planning to graduate, never fear—there are other options.
Many schools have minors or certificate programs available from their departments, so you can gain the knowledge and experience you want without derailing your timeline. If your school doesn't offer these, look into outside accreditation, too. For example, if you're passionate about graphic design but don’t want to change your anthropology major, take the Adobe certification exams or try an online course from Coursera or Lynda. While these certifications may come with a fee, they’re still a lot cheaper than an extra year of tuition.
5. Have you talked to an adviser?
An adviser might be able to assure you that those required intro classes are just a necessary evil, not a preview of your entire degree. If you chose a business major to pursue marketing but hate your mandatory Stock Market 101 lecture, keep in mind that many majors have a wide range of required classes. They’ve seen many other students go through the same process and will be able to help clarify whether you hate the major or just the classes you’re taking right now. Don’t forget to talk to advisers in the majors you’re considering as well! They can help you transition into your new path.
“My advisor was particularly helpful because she was realistic,” says Honie Moon, a junior at the University of Washington. “She gave me hard facts about what it took to be accepted into the major I wanted to pursue, how realistic my chances were, and how my statistics compared to past admittances.”
6. Is it affecting your mental health?
Struggling in a major can wreak havoc on your psyche. If your stress is out of control or you’re experiencing panic attacks, you need to re-evaluate how your schoolwork is affecting your health. Remember your self-worth isn’t defined by that competitive major or your projected career earnings.
“Sit back and ask yourself if you’re happy,” says Lexi Hill, a senior at the University of South Carolina. “I wasn’t doing well in my business-related courses, and was spending hours with a tutor trying to keep up. At the end of the day, I was miserable and decided to switch my major and focus on subjects that have always interested me.”
In the end, you’ll be so much happier, more productive and successful in a major you truly love, instead of going through the motions and suffering in a field of study that isn’t right for you. If your major or schoolwork is negatively affecting you, reach out to trusted friends or a counselor at your school’s health center. Your mental health is of utmost importance.
7. Have you done your research?
Look before you leap. How many of your credits will count toward this new major? If you switch to this new major, will you need to get a master’s degree to pursue the career you want? What does the job market look like? Do you know what the day-to-day life of studying and working in a particular field is like?
“Go out into the ‘real world’ and get a job or internship or apprenticeship and do some work in the field of study you think you want to pursue,” Mr. Olsher suggests. “That doesn't cost you anything. College is expensive, and if you keep changing your major, you'll spend money doing it. In an internship or job, you're getting paid to learn.”
Make sure you fully understand the consequences, good and bad, before you commit to switching your path.
8. Are you committed to making it work?
A new academic path can come with a whole new set of challenges. You’ll need to find your bearings to reorganize and refocus on your new goal. When you make the switch, you should be ready to give your new path 100 percent effort.
On the other hand, finally pursuing something you’re passionate about can do wonders for your motivation and drive. “Switching my major lit a fire under my booty so to speak,” says Lexi. “I was nervous and unsure about the decision and what effects it could have on my future, so I threw myself into anything that came my way, despite apprehensions or nerves!” Making the switch might give you just the inspiration you’ve been needing.
9. Are you letting fear control your decision?
Cold feet can happen for lots of reasons. Some of them are legitimate—others, not worth putting your hopes and dreams on hold for. For one thing, it can be nerve-wracking to realize your life isn’t going to play out the way you thought it would. “I was nervous because my previous major was what I claimed was ‘my dream’ since I was in middle school and I was scared to admit that it wasn't what I imagined it would be,” Hannah says. You’ve grown up, and your goals might have, too. That’s not a bad thing!
Fear of the future can also involve what your salary might be or how your job prospects might change. “The biggest thought in the back of my head was financial security in the future,” Lexi says. “I had always been told that business majors had a better chance of securing a job – and a high paying one – after college. I don’t regret switching my major at all; in fact, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be the president of the Her Campus chapter at USC,” she adds. Keep in mind that a new major brings new opportunities.
Changing your major is a serious and potentially life-changing decision, so make sure you’ve really thought it through before making such a big choice. Lexi adds, “Keep your parents in the loop about your major-switch, too.” They’ve known you for longer than just about anyone, and if they’re helping to pay for your college education, this information is especially relevant to them.
Ultimately, your major doesn’t define you but finding the one that’s right for you can make life—and achieving your goals—so much easier. As Hannah says, “It [was] one of the best decisions of my life.” It might end up being one of yours, too.