The Case for Changing Your Major

By: Jenna Savage

There is a stigma associated with switching majors – parents and school faculty members discourage students against it. They aren’t trying to be difficult, though. On the contrary, they are concerned that students who switch majors will not graduate on time – or at all – and if they do, that they will have paid more tuition for extra classes than students who remain in the same major throughout their undergraduate career. To combat that stigma, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on research that has disproven the idea that changing majors negatively impacts student education.

The first study mentioned by the article debunks the theory that switching majors is widespread among students. Research Coordinator Matthew J. Foraker monitored 7,000 full-time, first year students at Western Kentucky University, and found that 70% of students did not switch their majors at all. Only 6% switched their majors more than once, making it clear that changing majors isn’t as widespread as people tend to believe.

Even bigger than that discovery, however, was Foraker’s finding that students who entered college without declaring a major, but chose a major prior to their junior year, had a graduation rate of 83.4%, which is the highest of the research pool. Those who declared a major at the beginning and never switched graduated at a rate of 72.8%, and those who changed their majors just once were close to that group, with a graduation rate of 71.7%.

Foraker theorizes that students who do not declare their major right away put care and time into determining which field they prefer, which could account for the high graduation rate in that group. His study also indicates that changing majors before the end of the sophomore year does not hold students back. Rather, it may actually be good for them – as long as they make the decision before it is too late in their academic career, and as long as they do not switch frequently.

Another study cited by the Chronicle was conducted by the director of institutional research at California State University at Sacramento, Jing Wang-Dahlback, and assessment research analyst Jonathan P. Shiveley. They found that switching majors just once does not necessarily mean that a student will take more credits than is necessary for graduation. However, switching multiple times can lead to students taking – and therefore paying for – extra classes.

The lesson here is that switching majors isn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it may not negatively interfere with students’ education at all, as long as students don’t wait too long to declare and make sure they’re positive about the change before they make it.

So if you’re a student who is unsure about your major, don’t let the stigma of switching get to you. Make an informed decision – and do what is best for you.