Take 5 Steps Before Changing Your Major

Julie Mayfield and Lindsey Mayfield

Choosing a college major is a tricky business. The sheer number of majors available at a school could overwhelm anyone, let alone your average 18-year-old incoming freshman. That many college students change majors--an estimated 50 percent at one school, Pennsylvania State University--is not surprising. Here are some tips on ways parents and students can deal with a change in college major.

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At every college we visited with Lindsey--six by my count--we were told how common it is for students to change majors at least once. That didn't surprise me. How many of us knew exactly what we wanted to do at 18 or 19 years of age? Still, it's different when it's your child calling home with doubts that he or she is in the right major. Here are some things for parents to consider when that phone call comes.

1. Be prepared: No matter how certain your high school student seems about his or her major while packing up for college, be prepared for a change of heart at some point. Being prepared will allow you to be supportive and offer up advice based on your experience in the world beyond academia. You can provide information and perspective to your student and allow him or her to explore options.

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2. Know what this means financially: Some major changes will require extra semesters in school. If you're providing some or all of the cost of your child's education, know ahead of time what you're prepared to do in the way of additional schooling. This probably won't be your child's only consideration when deciding whether or not to change majors, but it's an important one, and he or she needs to be clear on the financial picture in order to make an informed decision.

3. Encourage your child to seek other opinions: As a parent, you know your child best, but you may be a little too close to the situation to be objective and you certainly won't have all the information necessary. Encourage your student to seek out resources at school, such as a trusted professor or an academic adviser, and in the community--like a career mentor--in order to get more information.


Like my mom, I heard over and over again that I would probably change my major at least once, and likely more than once, during my college career. What I didn't hear is what to do when that day came. Here are my suggestions for how to proceed once you get the dreaded feeling that you're not in the right academic place.

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1. Speak with an adviser right away: Like my mom mentioned above, you don't have to navigate this process by yourself. The best person to talk to is the adviser you've worked with throughout your time at school, but there are other options to consider.

A general studies adviser may be able to help you. If you're unsure about your major, a neutral adviser can inform you about a wide range of disciplines. You may discover something you didn't even know existed! Another potential resource is an adviser in the school you're considering transferring into or out of. He or she can tell you whether your concerns about your course work are normal, and what this new major would entail.

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Beware of the adviser who discourages you from transferring out of his or her area. If you're sure something's not right for you, don't let an adviser try to sugarcoat things. Your concerns will likely still be there once you leave their office.

2. Do some research: Do you really have a good idea of what this major means for you careerwise? There are great online resources such as the College Board's "Big Future" website that can help you, as well as your university's career center. It may be easier for you to decide on a major if you start with what you can see yourself doing as a career, and work backward from there.