How to Change Your College Major

by and
Student, iSchool High; Editor-in-Chief, Carnegie Communications

You may think that once you’ve been accepted to colleges the hard part is over; however, many students fail to remember the ongoing battle of picking—and sticking to—a college major.

Students head into college all over the place about their majors: some are dead set on one, some are pretty sure, some are undecided. However, once students start attending classes for their intended major (or classes totally outside their intended major), many choose to reevaluate their major decision. How many? According to the College Parents of America website, “Some studies suggest a figure as high as 80% change their major at least once. The average may be as high as changing majors three times during the college years.”

So if you’re thinking about changing your major, it’s good to know that you’re definitely not alone! Just remember that this should be entirely your choice—not because your friends or family believe majoring in business will be much more useful than your environmental studies major.

Related: Top 10 Tips for Exploring College Majors

Keep reading for a preview of the steps you need to take to change your major, when to do it, and what pitfalls to look out for.    

First, should you change your major?

You’re reading this, which means you’re at least thinking about changing your major. But maybe you’re still on the fence. Well, if any of these situations apply to you, it may be time to make a switch…

  • You’re bored or just plain unhappy in your current major. You feel in your gut that you’re in the wrong program. You dread going to classes—or just don’t care about them at all.

  • You can’t stop thinking about another major. You love everything you hear about your college’s marketing and communications program. Why aren’t you in it too?! If you can’t shake the feeling you should be in a different major, it may be time to listen to your instincts. Just make sure you really get to know the new major and that it’s the right choice for you and not just a “grass is greener” sort of thing.

  • You have a new career goal. You got to college and discovered a career passion you didn’t know you had—lots of students do. Even though you don’t really need to align your major to your future career, if there’s a more related major that can help you reach your future job goals, you should probably be in that program!

How to go about changing your major

Step 1

So, you decided you definitely want to change your major. Woohoo! The first step is to try to choose a new major, if you haven’t already. If you’re not entirely sure which major to pick, it’s time to get back to basics—things like working backwards from careers that interest you, thinking about your favorite activities, acknowledging your skills, talking to friends and professors in different departments, and even auditing a class or joining a related campus club. You can also use your college’s career counseling center and career assessment tests to help you choose. Still need help? You’ll find a guide to choosing a major here.

Step 2

Now it’s time to consult your academic advisor. They are your biggest ally in figuring out everything you need to do and all the requirements you need to meet to switch majors. They’re also used to this process, so they can answer your questions and guide you through it. It would be great to consult an advisor from your intended major, but if you’re still not sure about what your new major will be, then you can just visit your current academic advisor.

Step 3

Next you need to make sure you meet the requirements for admission to your new major department, college, or school within the university. At many colleges, you’ll need to meet the same admission requirements as outside students who are seeking acceptance into the school. That means it’s possible that you may not be admitted to your new major—even though you’re already a student at the college—if your academic stats aren’t up to snuff. If that’s the case, you can discuss your options (like taking another semester or year to bring up your grades) with your academic advisor.

Step 4

The final step is to submit the paperwork requesting a major change. The process to change your major will differ from college to college, but your application will probably need to be approved by the department chair and the college dean of your new major. Again, your academic advisor will let you know how this process goes. (See? Told you they were your biggest ally!)

When should you change your major?

Basically, the sooner you can make the decision to change your major, the better. Your first two years of college will probably be all or mostly general education requirements, and they’re more likely to work for multiple major requirements, which is good. But the longer you wait/later you decide to change your major, the harder it can be, because you’ll be taking more specialized classes that may not apply to your new major. You may lose credits you’ve already earned if they’re not applicable to the major you’re changing into. And if you need to take additional required classes to fulfill your new major requirements, they could eat into your electives or, worst-case scenario, you may have to pay for summer classes or more semesters of tuition. We’re talking time and money, people. To avoid this issue, recommends changing your major before you hit 60 college credits. If you have passed 60 credits, instead of changing your major, you may want to consider just adding a minor to your current major.

Regardless of why you choose to change your major, make sure you research it thoroughly and take your time. Weigh the pros and cons of the situation to decide if this is something you really want to do and if this is right for you.

One last important thing!

Never forget that your college major isn’t a career contract. You can go on to do lots of things with lots of majors. Even super specific majors like nursing or engineering won’t nail you down to those jobs forever. Your experience, skills, and interests end up being way more important in your future job search and career than your major. So don’t sweat it.

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