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I Picked The Wrong Major, How Do I Change?

Many students begin college then realize that the major that they chose just doesn’t seem to be right for them. Some of the classes may be too hard, too boring, or the overall feel just doesn’t seem like a good fit. In some cases it can be very easy to change majors, especially if the student is early in their college career, since they haven’t taken that many classes at all. But for those who are in their late sophomore or junior year, they may find that changing directions – while still possible – is much more difficult. Thankfully, a characteristic of the US system is that students can change their major at virtually any time. However, there are different considerations for changing majors in college that need to be considered.

When Do I Need To Declare A Major?

There is no universal system of college in the US, or the world for that matter. Colleges are all similar but different, and rules can vary by school and even country. In general, colleges in the US system do not require students to declare a major until well after they start classes. European or Canadian systems, for example, often require students to choose a major upon filling out the admission application. They are then enrolled in a “track,” often with little recourse for changing their major later on. The US system is much more lenient, it typically allows students to attend with an undeclared status, which means that students are not forced to choose a major right at the beginning. This has the advantage of allowing a student to explore different interests before they have to decide upon a major. In semester hour credits, a college degree is roughly 120 credits (although some colleges use odd systems to express the same concept, such as .5 credits is one full-time class). Even while undeclared, students can still work toward the general education component of the major, which is upwards of 60 or more credits depending on the major. There are some exceptions for majors where the general education component will be used up by prerequisites for later classes, where such students won’t get the chance to take many liberal arts classes because they have to take lower level requirements instead. But for most majors, the last minute when students need to declare a major in the US system can be as late as the beginning of their junior year.

Declaring A Major During Freshman Application

Certain courses of study, while they may still have a general education component, require that students use those credits as prerequisites for the major. For example, engineering is notorious for requiring many prerequisite courses for later major classes. Students may get very few if any general classes, so they are essentially stuck having to declare engineering as their major when they start. Even basic introductory courses may be reserved for those in a declared major, so some routes give students little flexibility if they are chosen. Acceptance in to a program can also have certain GPA requirements, and students who did well in high school may be eligible for admission in to them as a freshman. However, if they have a rough first year and want to change due to poor performance, they may be unable to do so because of a low college GPA. The most recent GPA always counts, and college course performance invariably trumps high school performance for acceptance. In other words, if you declare a tough major as a freshman and don’t do well, those grades still count if you want to transfer in to a different program at your school or even another college. The lesson here is to be careful deciding whether your should declare a major as an incoming freshman, it may hurt the chance of changing later on.

Changing Majors At Your School

There is a big difference between being accepted in to a college or university, and being accepted in to a departmental major. The overall college sets general admissions requirements for their students, but each specific department that oversees a major sets the requirements for who may be accepted in to that program. For example, a college may say students only need a 2.8 GPA to be accepted as a student, but the mathematics department may say students need a 3.5 GPA to be accepted in to that major. Any other acceptance requirements for a specific major will be right at their home page, and the process is typically very straightforward if the student meets the requirements. Students can also contact an Advisor from that department to learn more about the major, and there may even be informational meetings for students who are interested in that program. The difficult part of changing majors within a college normally isn’t the actual process of changing, it’s meeting the requirements then making the decision to commit to that direction.

Finding A Major That’s Right For You

One of the most difficult decisions that a student can face in college is exactly which major to choose, and in most cases, there’s no perfect solution. While bio-engineering may sound impressive to a student, the curriculum may be far more difficult than they can handle. When a student is unsure of a major, there are some things that they can do to explore their interests, such as career testing which is commonly offered by the college that they attend. However, there is no perfect way to know what you will be happy with later in life regarding a college major, that’s essentially predicting the future and no one has a crystal ball to help with that. The best students can do is check the actual curriculum that that they would have to take for a major, including the course descriptions and prerequisites. This will give a good idea of what they will be getting into regarding course, topics, difficulty, and exactly how much effort the major will be. Always keep in mind that students are choosing a body of knowledge to master for their undergraduate degree, a college major isn’t necessarily one’s destiny in life. After graduation people change fields all the time, but this is hard to see when you’re in the cloistered environment of college.

Working On A Four-Year Major At A Community College

Taking general education courses at a two-year college is extremely common and can be helpful for many students. However, I’ve heard some say they’re “working on their major” while they are at a two-year school, and this is a point of confusion. A major for a bachelor’s degree is conferred from a four-year college, so it’s impossible to declare or effectively work on a major while at a two-year school. In fact, you should never take classes for a major beyond an introductory level while at a two-year school. Why? Because many four-year major departments will say that you have to take all of the classes for the major at their own college as part of their requirements, so you might have to re-take all of those classes again resulting in wasted time and money. You can work on prerequisites for those major classes, take general education requirements, or take elective courses – just not those for a four-year major you want, especially the upper-level ones.

A smart idea is to check out the curriculum at several colleges for a major you might want, and look for the common themes. That will allow you to see what you can take at a two-year school. For example, biology as a major typically requires supporting classes like calc I and II, chem I and II, physics I and II, and others. You can take these at a two-year school since they are considered supporting courses, not for the major. Always clarify with an Advisor at a four-year school you might be interested in regarding transferring in courses for the major. Also keep in mind that the classes for two-year college majors often do not transfer in cleanly to four-year majors, with one exception. Some community colleges offer an associates degree that is a general arts and sciences major, which is really earning a two-year degree for the first two years of general education courses you’d have to take anyway for a four-year degree. But for associate degrees in biology, veterinary science, engineering, and others that are specific, you run the risk of losing credits and having to re-take classes if you don’t match these up to the four-year major curriculum. Programs like these with the word “technology” in their name may have classes that don’t transfer to any four-year college since a technology program is often specific to that two-year school. Always do the research when “working on a major” at a two-year school, because you’re essentially taking classes that need to apply as prerequisites later on.

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