Guide to US Applications • Undergraduate

Switching Paths: Expert Guidance on Changing Majors at US Universities

POSTED ON 05/10/2024 BY The Red Pen

Changing Majors at US Universities

US undergraduate programmes emphasise exploration, personal growth, and the pursuit of knowledge, particularly in the initial years. The first year often focuses on general education. While students can wait until their sophomore year to declare a major, changes are expected as late as the third year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 30 percent of students change majors within the first three years. This blog examines reasons for changing majors once you’ve selected, explores the impact of changes on academic and career paths, and offers guidance for this crucial decision.

Why consider changing your major? 

Changing your major is a significant decision and should be made after careful consideration. Here are a few reasons to alter your chosen academic path:

1) Change in Interest:

One of the most prevalent reasons to change majors is a shift in interests and passions. What once excited you may no longer align with your evolving goals and ambitions. Alyssa Goldberg, Class of 2022, New York University, says, “I originally enrolled in NYU as a Psychology major in CAS and took pre-med courses – including chemistry and biology – as I considered pursuing psychiatry. Throughout my freshman year, I realised my interests were broader; I wanted to explore public health and policy and found that studying psychology in CAS was not the right fit.”

In your journey, if you realise that your true passions lie elsewhere, exploring new interests and adjusting your major is a proactive step toward aligning your academic pursuits with your evolving goals.

2) Academic challenges:

Facing academic difficulties in your current major is a compelling reason to consider exploring alternative paths that more closely align with your strengths and abilities. These challenges may manifest in difficulties understanding course material, struggling with the academic workload, or disengaging from the subject. When you encounter such obstacles, it’s essential to reflect on whether the challenges are temporary or indicate a more profound mismatch between your skills and the demands of the major. Exploring alternative paths allows you to assess whether there are academic disciplines where you feel more confident, motivated, and capable.

3) Job market:

Economic and job market conditions can also influence choices for a major. Students may switch to majors with better job prospects or higher earning potential. Therefore, while choosing a major, staying informed about economic trends is essential to align your academic choices with job market needs. Always consider skill demand, salary expectations, and career growth. 

How do you navigate a change in your major? 

Changing your major at a US university is a common and often straightforward process, but being aware of your institution’s specific policies and procedures is essential. Most universities allow you to fill out a form declaring a change of major. Remember that pre-professional programmes (especially Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Law) require you to fulfil prerequisites to apply for these programmes at a graduate level. Most students can switch their majors as often as they want, but they should generally come to a conclusion about which direction they want to take by their sophomore year or early junior year at the latest. Here are a few steps you can take if you’ve decided to change your major: 

Step 1: Assess reasons for changing your major:  

Changing your major is a significant decision that warrants careful consideration. Reflecting on why you want to make this change is crucial in ensuring it aligns with your personal and professional goals. It’s essential to assess whether your lack of interest is temporary or a persistent feeling that will hinder your academic performance and future career satisfaction.

If you’ve discovered new interests or have identified a career path that better aligns with your strengths and passions, changing your major can be a strategic move towards achieving your professional objectives. Consider how your current major aligns with your desired career trajectory and whether switching to a different field would better position you for success.

Step 2: Research majors of interest: 

Researching potential new majors is pivotal when considering a change in academic direction. Begin by delving into the curriculum of prospective majors to understand the coursework, prerequisites, and specialisation options. Weigh the course’s rigour with your learning style. Pay attention to experiential learning opportunities such as internships, research projects, or study abroad programmes that can enhance your educational experience and practical skills.

Step 3: Schedule a meeting with your academic advisor:

Arrange a meeting with your academic advisor to align your goals and interests with the most fitting major for your educational journey. This interaction is crucial for gaining personalised guidance tailored to your aspirations. For example, let’s say you’re torn between pursuing a health sciences or business administration major. Your academic advisor can offer valuable insights into each major’s curriculum, career prospects, and potential paths. In this meeting, discuss your career aspirations and educational interests openly. If you are contemplating switching to a health-related major, inquire about the specific courses, hands-on experiences, and potential certifications associated with that field. But if you’re considering a business-related major, explore core business courses, internship opportunities, and any concentrations available within the major. By the end of this meeting, you should have a clearer understanding of the requirements, opportunities, and potential career paths associated with each major. Your advisor’s expertise will empower you to make informed decisions that align with your academic and professional aspirations.

Step 4: Evaluate your credits: 

It’s essential to assess your credits to transition to a new major. Determine how many additional credits you’ll need to earn. Find out if you have transferable credits or require additional courses to meet the new major’s requirements, and lastly, estimate the cost per credit to gauge the financial impact of these extra courses. 

Step 5: Engage with career services at your university:

Gain valuable insights by consulting career services, as their expert perspective can significantly enhance your understanding of potential career paths. For instance, let’s say you are considering switching from a psychology major to one in marketing. Career services can guide how your understanding of human behaviour, honed through psychology courses, can be valuable in market research or consumer behaviour analysis within the marketing field. During this consultation, explore diverse career options related to your prospective majors. For instance, if you’re contemplating between majors in computer science and environmental science, they can shed light on the job market for each field and help you envision the types of roles available upon graduation. 

Step 6: Familiarise yourself with new major requirements:

When transitioning to a new major, it’s essential to grasp the unique requirements associated with that academic path. For instance, suppose you are contemplating a transition from a major in education to one in health sciences. You may encounter a completely different set of prerequisites. Health sciences may require courses in biology, anatomy, or medical terminology. However, if your new major aligns closely with your current one, the additional requirements may be minimal. For instance, if you’re moving from a major in environmental science to one in ecology, the overlap in subject matter may result in fewer additional prerequisites. 

Step 7: Enrol in classes relevant to your new major:

Once you’ve decided on a new major, enrol in courses that align with its requirements. Consider a scenario where you’re transitioning from a sociology major to criminology. Enrolling in introductory criminology courses would be essential to meet the new major’s prerequisites and gain foundational knowledge. If you’ve previously taken relevant courses that overlap with your new major, you may find that some credits can be applied, potentially saving time on your degree completion. For instance, international relations or political history courses might be deemed relevant and count toward your political science major. By enrolling in courses relevant to your new major, you actively engage with the academic requirements of your chosen field, setting the foundation for a successful transition. 

Step 8: Notify relevant departments:

Switching majors requires attention to detail. Officially request to switch majors by submitting a formal request to your current and desired new departments. Follow the enrollment change protocols outlined by your institution to ensure a seamless transition. Adhering to procedural guidelines is vital to minimise bureaucratic hurdles that could impede your plans.

What are the benefits of changing majors

1) You will align your education with your passion: 

Rather than feeling obligated to study subjects that don’t resonate with you, switching your major empowers you to pursue areas of knowledge that genuinely inspire and engage you. Making the switch enables you to create an academic path that reflects your genuine interests and allows you to thrive intellectually.

2) You will accumulate information on diverse subjects: 

Switching your major introduces you to new fields of study and will enable you to leverage what you’ve learned from your first choice. Regardless of how challenging your initial classes were, the months spent in those classes offer valuable insights and skills. This accumulated knowledge becomes valuable during job interviews, enabling you to discuss diverse subjects and demonstrate your adaptability. 

3) You may discover career paths you didn’t previously consider:

Switching your major during college often serves as a gateway to unforeseen career avenues. For instance, you may have initially selected computer science due to its promising job prospects. But, after taking elective courses in philosophy and sociology out of sheer curiosity, you may discover careers in law, journalism, or even management consulting. 

4) Your mental health may improve:

Choosing a major that aligns with your interests and strengths can significantly mitigate the risk of experiencing excessive academic strain and its impact on mental health. When you select a programme that resonates with you, you’re more likely to engage enthusiastically with the coursework and persevere through challenges rather than feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. For example, if you have a passion for literature and storytelling, pursuing a major in English or creative writing will work, even when faced with demanding assignments or tight deadlines. Your interest in the subject will serve as a source of resilience, helping you navigate academic pressures more effectively. But you may struggle to maintain the same level of enthusiasm and dedication when you choose a subject you’re not passionate about. This disconnect between your interests and the programme’s demands can impact your academic performance and mental well-being.

What are the disadvantages of changing majors

1) Extended graduation time 

Sometimes, while altering your major, there could be a necessity to complete additional coursework, resulting in a more time-consuming academic journey. This can extend the time required for graduation beyond the initially anticipated duration.

2) Loss of course credits

When you decide to change your major, there’s a possibility that you’ll lose credits you’ve earned in your previous field of study. You may need to begin your academic journey again, accumulating credits from the new major. This process may impact your overall progress and time spent pursuing your educational goals.

3) Financial constraints 

Financial considerations come into play when opting for a new major. The tuition fees for the chosen course may vary from those of your initial major. The potential cost difference is a significant aspect that every student should carefully weigh before changing majors. It involves assessing the financial impact of the switch and ensuring that you are prepared for any additional expenses that may arise due to pursuing a different academic path. 

What are the alternatives to changing your major? 

Not every shift in your academic focus requires a complete change of major. Alternative paths allow you to delve into new interests while progressing in your initial field. Two such alternatives are pursuing a double major or opting for a minor. These options provide a balanced approach to exploring other interests without fully committing to a change in major.

  • Double Major: A double major enables you to pursue two fields of study simultaneously. This appeals to many college students as it broadens the range of degree programs they encounter. Upon selecting a primary major, Rice University students can fulfil the requirements for an additional major, regardless of its relation to the first major. 
  • Minor: A minor requires fewer courses and offers a less intensive way to explore a secondary field of interest. For instance, if you’re majoring in business but are interested in graphic design, taking a minor in graphic design can provide you with a creative edge in the business world without needing to start over from the beginning.

Remember that your educational journey is personal. Choosing a major that aligns with your passions and aspirations sets you up for a fulfilling and successful future. You may read our ultimate guide to undergraduate courses in the US and the unique advantages of a STEM-designated major in the US. For any questions on undergraduate studies in the US or guidance with your application, please get in touch. Our experts look forward to assisting you.