Majors play two important roles in every college career. First,
your major offers you a clear course of study. Second, if you choose wisely,
you'll remain excited about your classes.
Students who don't choose
wisely risk spending several years hopping from major to major, or they don't
end up completing a degree. It's no wonder then that some students have trouble
finalizing their decision as they worry about making the right choice.
obvious danger is in falling behind," says Jack Trammell. He is a professor
who teaches in the honors program and sociology department at Randolph-Macon
College in Virginia. "But really, I'm such a firm believer in the multidisciplinary
approach to education that I don't see any other significant danger [in switching
Danielle Hendrickson, a senior at Carroll College in Wisconsin,
has had three very different majors in less than four years. As a freshman,
the always-athletic daughter of a teacher decided to focus on physical education.
"Then I started to realize physical education was not for me," she
says. "Near the end of my freshman year, I decided to switch to business."
After enrolling in some classes, Hendrickson found that business wasn't something
she wanted to pursue after college. "Finally, while entering into my junior
year of college, I realized that graphic design was my calling," she says.
By changing her choice of major, Hendrickson now has to work even
harder to graduate with her class. "Luckily there's such a thing as summer
school and winter term," she says. "I've enrolled in every winter term and
have taken numerous summer classes to graduate on time."
is a senior at Winona State University in Minnesota. She began college focusing
on elementary education, knowing she could always succeed as a teacher.
in my junior year I thought of changing my major to psychology, sociology
and social work." She finally decided on a combined major in communication
arts and English literature.
"[Finalizing a major] was difficult at
first and took me two years to figure out," Runestad says. "This caused me
to have two more years of school rather than one, but it was worth it."
school has its own restrictions on changing majors. Some do allow students
to switch majors even if it adds an extra year or two of study, but not all.
Carol Cohen is assistant dean of the college and associate counselor
for the alumni college advising program at Brown University. She says, "At
Brown, for instance, the ethic is you can switch as long as it's still possible
for you to fit in the coursework within four years, because our policy does
not allow for students to make late-in-the-game switches, and then add on
Extra classes or years of college always mean extra tuition,
which can add up quickly. Not all parents are willing, or able, to foot the
As a parent, Trammell says that adding a semester or two "would
definitely hurt financially, but I would still support my kids in finding
Some students aren't as lucky -- they may find themselves
having to fund a fifth or sixth year of college without their parents' financial
help. In such cases, some continue on, some become part-time students. Others
leave college with plenty of credit hours completed and money spent, but no
degree to show for it.
"In general, when you're working towards a
four-year undergraduate degree, there's a logical, reasonable time at which
you have to say, 'OK. This is what I'm going for,'" says Cohen.
crunch time, she advises students at Brown University who are still unsure
to review their current credits with their advisors, and assess which major
they're closest to. They should then make that their major, and take whatever
classes are needed to complete the program, no matter what it is.
the credits they've acquired will be from earlier choices, the matching major
will still relate to their interests, even if it doesn't fit perfectly with
their current preferences.
Cohen cautions students not to think that
their major determines their personality, or the rest of their career. It's
important to recognize that it is really only professions like medicine that
need specialized study. The core curriculum of most schools should serve you
well in whatever occupation you choose.
Most employers are looking
for a four-year degree of any type, proving that employees had the wherewithal
to complete a challenging course of study. After all, graduates come away
with a bachelor of arts, or a bachelor of science degree, not a bachelor in
history or economics.
"People get very hung up on 'I'm supposed to
find my passion,'" Cohen says. "That's great if you do. If not, certainly
that college degree and the battery of skills that you should have by the
time you leave college is really what is going to be compelling to an employer
or even to a graduate program."
She adds, "[Your final major] may
not be perfect. I've seen students graduate and say, 'If I had to do it all
over again I would go back and do religious studies. But as it is I ended
up with psych, so I finished in psych and that's fine.'"
several successful people you know what they majored in when they were in
college. You might be surprised by how many wound up working in unrelated
fields, in careers that interest them and suit them very well.
more on this topic, see:
Guide to Choosing College Majors: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/choosing-college-majors