Choosing your path of study is a personal decision. However, it isn’t always an easy one. According to some studies, around half of undergraduate students change majors at least once.
UA senior Lily Wientjes is part of that statistic, changing majors four times until she found the right fit.
The Montgomery native’s goal is to go to law school, but she didn’t know which major to pick to get there. She started her freshman year as a news media major, but after one class realized it was not the path for her. She switched to political science for a semester, then criminal justice, then landed on public health.
“The first time I changed my major it was scary because of all the stigma around it,” she said. “I was worried about it every time I changed it, but I had such good resources through the University I was assured it was going to be okay.”
Director of Undergraduate Student Services for the Culverhouse College of Business Brandy Frost recommends students be open to change.
“Students live so much life in these four years …. It’s unrealistic to look at a 17-year-old and expect them to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives,” Frost said. “They change. They’re supposed to change.”
Talk to Your Advisor
If like Wientjes, you find your major-specific classes are not all you thought they would be, or you simply can’t envision yourself enjoying that line of work, then you may start thinking about changing your major. Attending career fairs, considering what degrees your dream job(s) require, and talking to advisors are all steps to help you make a decision.
Before making a formal change, check with your advisor to see if the new major aligns with your academic and career goals and whether a change will affect your graduation timeline. Your advisor may also help you figure out a similar major to which you can transfer credits.
The first time I changed my major it was scary because of all the stigma around it. I was worried … but I had such good resources through the University I was assured it was going to be okay.Lily Wientjes
“Students can of course change their major at any time, but I do prefer they come talk to me personally, so they don’t see that they accidentally add two semesters to their graduation date,” said Scott Miller, an advisor in the College of Communication and Information Sciences.
The most common and best time to switch, according to advisors, is during the first two years of your studies. This helps prevent delaying your graduation.
Some students may be concerned about graduating by a certain date; however, adding summer classes, one extra regular semester or a minor can be an investment that may save time later, Frost emphasized.
“It will cost you more money later because if you are in a career you hate, you will change eventually,” she said.
Finding the Path for You
Miller said being honest with yourself about your career goals helps make major selection easier.
“If you know you want to be a journalist, and you find the work fulfilling, then news media is perfect for you,” said Miller. “But if you don’t [want that lifestyle], then a business degree might be for you. This is not about what society wants you to do. This is about what you want to do.”
The advisors emphasize to their students that it is their choice, not their parents’ choice.
“We find a lot of students … [who were] told that this is what they are going to do and then they realize it’s what their parents wanted them to do,” Frost said. “We have cases where parents say they are only paying for an engineering or business degree, but that may not line up with their gifts.”
Quick Tips on Changing Majors
- Talk to your advisor. If you are considering changing to a major in a different college or department, Miller advises reaching out to whatever advisor you are considering switching to. They will have an understanding of that particular field of study.
- Learn as much as you can about the careers, professional opportunities and day-to-day work life of careers associated with a major. Use the Career Center as a resource!
- Use DegreeWorks to see how adding different courses and requirements affects your schedule.
As an advisor, Frost works to aid students in having conversations with their parents about major choices and career goals.
“We get creative with them, like negotiating minors, all the while accomplishing that familial goal,” she added.
Explore Your Options with UA Resources
Each fall, UA hosts a majors fair, which can be an eye-opening opportunity not only to learn about different majors but minors, too.
Frost recommends talking to faculty, especially if they worked in the field before coming to academia.
“Try to talk with or shadow someone in the position you hope to hold one day. Find out if it is what you expected or something different. Be honest about how you work best, and the environment you need to thrive. That looks different for everyone,” she said.
To learn if you like the actual work, Miller recommends students get involved in internships and clubs to get experience.
“It’s better to realize you hate something as a freshman than a senior. College is a developmental time. Be shaped into someone who you are excited to be,” he added.
The Career Center is another resource for students wanting to explore all their options. They offer drop-ins for résumé reviews, but all other appointments must be scheduled in advance between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“The Career Center is a great starting point, and we can talk with students about additional steps and resources,” said Mary Lowery, director of career education and development at the Career Center. “For example, after self-assessment with a career advisor, research majors including course descriptions and consider the knowledge and skills you might gain that can be applied to a variety of careers.”
Working with the Career Center also can help you identify individual strengths and how those can fit into your professional goals. The Career Center offers career planning services and resources, which are open to all undergraduate and graduate students as well as alumni.
“We hope students will take advantage of all our services, resources and events. We understand that thinking about a career can often be overwhelming and we want to help students break that down into manageable, enjoyable steps,” said Lowery.
Making the Change
While committing to a major is an important choice, Frost stressed that your degree does not necessarily define your career.
There are myriad creative options. For example, “You can get an accounting degree, but you can also be an accountant for a music artist and travel …. Life is too short not to do something you love every day,” she said.
Remember that your definition of success is not the same as someone else’s. It is personal. Let us help you carve a path to reach your personal goals, and please do not try to do it all by yourself!Brandy Frost
“Remember that your definition of success is not the same as someone else’s. It is personal. Let us help you carve a path to reach your personal goals, and please do not try to do it all by yourself!”
Wientjes agrees about seeking guidance. Her biggest advice to students thinking about changing what they are studying is to consult with advisors first.
“I loved talking to my advisors because they were very honest with me,” she said. “They can help you decide if it is the right decision for you.”
Frost said students should know they don’t have to brave this journey alone.
“I see students who carry very heavy loads personally, through life situations have grown up very quickly,” she said. “They feel like they have to do that here. But there are literal teams in place to walk side by side with y’all.”