Should You Change Majors in College? Here's What You Need to Know

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

You've made the life-altering decision of where to attend college. And you've likely chosen a major.  The problem is, the major you select before even setting foot on campus might not be the one you love a year later. So, what’s a college student to do?   Rather than sticking with a major that doesn’t inspire you anymore, consider changing it. Learn more about how to change your major and what impact this decision may have on your academic future. 

Why students change their majors (a lot)

Changing majors isn’t uncommon. Students change majors for many reasons. Usually, it’s because they’ve selected their major before they know much – if anything – about the field of study. As a result, after getting some experience in their freshman year with several different courses, many students start second-guessing their choice of major.   Even students who know what to expect may suddenly stumble across something that really excites them. For instance, when you take electives outside of your area of study, you might discover a course that totally engages and inspires you. A business student, for example, might want to make a switch to a more creative major like digital media.   Students also sometimes change their majors because they see themselves going down a different, albeit related, career path. It’s not unusual for your original career aspirations to change as you’re exposed to various aspects of your major. Instead of adding a minor, for example, you might transfer from business to economics.  

The basics about changing your major

When you originally select your major, your advisor will outline the classes that you must complete in order to graduate. These requirements will be a mix of general education classes both inside and outside your college, along with more advanced courses specific to your major.   Typically, you spend your first year or two working on your general education requirements, with perhaps a few introductory major classes, before diving into major-specific classes for your junior and senior years.   When you change your major, you must meet your new major’s requirements to graduate. This often means that some of the courses you’ve taken will not count toward your new major. It also means that you might have missed some classes that you’ll need to make up in order to graduate.   However, these are certainly not insurmountable obstacles. Changing your major is not only possible – it’s also a good decision if you feel strongly about the change.   Photo by Mimi Thian

How to change your major

You’ve found a new field of study, and you’re committed to making the change. What do you do?   The first step is to talk to your advisor about how to make the switch happen. You can prepare for this meeting by reviewing the course requirements for your new major so that you have a sense of what to expect as far as new coursework. You might be pleased to see that some of the classes you’ve already taken will count toward your new major, which can save you time and money.   Start with your current advisor, who is likely housed within your college. If you’re switching your major to another college say, from the school of business to the school of education you will probably be connected with an advisor in the new college who can help you make the transition.

Required courses

Here, you'll determine what completed coursework will transfer to your new major. If your university has basic general education requirements, those likely transcend majors. In other words, all new students will be expected to take courses to build their general knowledge – this coursework may include English, math, and foreign language credits, for example.    The good news is that the general education courses you completed for your original major will probably transfer to your new one, which means you won’t have to start over completely.   Your advisor will work with you to build a plan for switching to your new major. Don’t be alarmed if you’re a few courses behind, which means you aren’t on track to graduate in four years. You can make that up by taking an extra course for a couple of semesters or enrolling in a summer semester. By working with an advisor, you can make well-informed decisions when developing your schedule so that the major change doesn’t derail your graduation plans.  

Early is best

Making the decision to change your major requires careful consideration. Timing, in particular, plays a significant role in this decision. Simply put, the earlier you can change your major, the better.    Perhaps after some lackluster courses during your first semester of college, you’re ready to change. Maybe you spent your freshman year reflecting on your coursework and find yourself inspired by a new major.    If you can change your major during or at the end of your freshman year, it’ll have less of an impact on your path to graduation. In fact, you just might be able to take a summer class or two to make up the difference, and you’ll be caught up by your sophomore year.   Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Better later than never

If you change your major later in your academic career, you can expect a few challenges. First, you’ll almost certainly have some courses that won’t count toward your degree.   Second, you might need another semester or two beyond your four years to complete the required coursework in order to graduate. This additional coursework is going to come with a cost, so consider what impact this may have on your student loans.   However, by taking extra classes every semester or during the summers, you might be able to avoid that extra year in school. While you'll still be paying for a few more courses, you'll graduate with the majority of your class.  

During semesters

Next, consider the timing within the semester. If you want to swap classes, you need to make this decision before the add/drop window has closed. Your ability to drop and add classes usually ends a couple of weeks into the semester, so again, the sooner, the better when it comes to making changes.   You can start talking about changing majors with your advisor at any time in the semester, even at the midpoint. Ideally, you’ll make the decision to change your major before registration opens for the next semester. That way, you can register for the classes you need.   If you make this decision after the add/drop window closes, you’ll need to complete your current coursework and plan which courses for your new major you’ll take next semester. Otherwise, you'll waste time and money by dropping them completely.  

The process

Once you’ve decided you’re ready for a change, let your advisor be your guide in the process. Most schools will require you to complete paperwork to indicate your major change. Make sure this paperwork is submitted and processed well before the end of the semester so that you’re on track to register for the appropriate courses for the next semester.   With your major change comes new professors, new coursework, and new peers. So, you may consider reaching out to the advisor in the new college who might be able to connect you with fellow students or even student organizations in your field. You can jump into those organizations now to begin to meet students in your new major.   Photo by Eliott Reyna

The bottom line

If you’re thinking about changing your major, you’re not alone. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, about 30 percent of undergraduate students change their major at least once. Ten percent of students change their major more than once. So, deciding to change your major isn’t a novel decision, and it isn’t one that your advisor hasn’t seen before.   In fact, your college advisor is skilled in helping students navigate different majors and designing new course schedules. While choosing one major and sticking with it can ensure you graduate on time and don’t waste any money, it’s more important to obtain the right degree for your future career.   Evaluate your options, consider the impact changing your major will have on your budget and timeline. Then choose the major that sets you up for success long after graduation.