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Is it common for students to switch majors? Will it affect how long it takes you to graduate?

I am a high school senior and I have no idea what I want to major in or purse. I was just wondering how common it is for a student to switch majors and how much of a set back it is on your education. #college #college-major #education #graduation #switches

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Jared’s Answer, CareerVillage.org Team

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I switched majors quite a lot, and quite a large number of my friends in college switched majors at least once. It's quite common. If you do it in freshman year or even the first half of sophomore year it's unlikely to affect your graduation date, because you can still plan ahead far enough to get all of your required courses completed to qualify for your major. Switching majors in Junior or Senior year would almost certainly set you back. It also matters how dramatic your change is. If you switch from computer science to history, all of the time spent in engineering and CS courses are going to do nothing for your history requirements, so that might set you back. However, switching from chemistry to physics might have less of an effect because they share so many prerequisite courses. That's actually why it's a good idea for you to learn as much as you can now, in high school, about the different areas of study and what you want to be when you leave college. Because in college, generally speaking, you only get a couple of bites at the proverbial apple.

Thank you comment icon It is very helpful to hear this, thank you Teal
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the information! Simran
Thank you comment icon Thanks for sharing your experience Maeve
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Royze’s Answer

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Is it common for students to switch majors?
-Absolutely. Your interests will grow or change when you enter college, especially when you become exposed to new ideas, practices, theories, and people. Typically, Universities do not require you to declare your major until your Junior year, after you have completed a certain number of units and pre-requisites. I certainly changed my intended major a couple of times but always kept a close eye on the pre-requisites that I needed to complete in order to graduate on time. I suggest working closely with your University counselors so that you can plan out different college and career paths and make sure you graduate on time.


Will it affect how long it takes you to graduate?
-Perhaps. Changing your major late in your Junior or Senior year may change your graduation date. So back to my earlier suggestion - work with a counselor to plan out your schedule and try to take classes that fulfill requirements for more than just one major. For example, I contemplated being either a Legal Studies, Political Science, Economics, or Business major. One core class that I needed to complete in order to declare any one of these majors was Statistics, so I took that class and other classes that counted as requirements for each of these majors. I had broad interest but ultimately decided on one major and a focus area. Because I planned and positioned myself well to pursue any major options, I was able to graduate in less than 4 years.


-If you do end up changing majors and it affects your graduation date, I suggest you take summer classes. It gives you the opportunity to take a couple classes that may allow you to graduate on time. The only downsides would be 1) the cost and, perhaps, 2) less of an opportunity to intern. You'll just have to weigh what's most important to you.

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Jenn’s Answer

It's relatively common, though generally people don't switch more than once because of the logistical issues. How much of a setback it is depends on the specific majors involved and how late you switch. Sometimes it's not much of one at all, especially if you switch early, switch into something with few requirements, or switch into something relatively similar (as some courses you've already taken may count). Other times, it's a lot harder - for example, switching into engineering is almost impossible at most places without a lot of time lost because there are so many requirements.


The best advice I can give you is to cast a wide net before you declare. Write down what your interests are and what you might be interested in for your career, and try to find the best match for both of those lists. Oftentimes older students and academic advisors/professors in the areas you're considering are great resources to learn about each major and where it might lead you. If you do need to switch, that can be worked out with a similar strategy of meeting with the appropriate advisors and figuring out a strategy that will work best for you.

Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice and the tips Teal
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the great information and advice! This helps a lot! Simran
Thank you comment icon Thanks for the helpful information! Andrea
Thank you comment icon Thank you for your help and helpful information Maeve
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Lisa’s Answer

Hi Jordan!


I went into college believing I 100% knew what career I wanted. I majored in music education, but after 3 years of teaching after college I decided that I really didn't know what I wanted to do and I was unhappy. Yes, I loved music and children, but I really didn't love all the other things I had to deal with. There are still days that I say "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up!"


If you are going to a 4 year college there are a ton of general education classes that you have to take in order to graduate. My advice is to not declare a major at all if you are unsure or choose something very general, and concentrate on finishing those classes. You may find something new that you really love and are passionate about, or you may discover that what you've been thinking about all this time is really what you want to do. Take your time, and love what you do!


Good luck!

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Nariman’s Answer

Most people do change their majors a few times and colleges know that. Depending on the change of major, most college courses transfer easily from major to major and therefore don't set you back that much. Sometimes you just have to take a few classes to know if it's a good fit for you or not. Career services at colleges are good at helping students figure out what they want to major in. You can enroll in college as undecided and then while you take the usual courses everyone has to take, see the career counseling staff at your college and begin figuring out what your major is.

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David’s Answer

Not knowing exactly what path you want to take at the start of college is very normal. Taking time to understand your interests and strengths should be a priority in your college years. Taking a variety of classes, talking with professors/alumni, doing internships are all parts of figuring out your longer term goals.


As time goes on you learn and experience more those goals will inevitably change over time. Even after college career paths can wind into unexpected places. I know very few people who knew exactly what they wanted to do and did not change their career path at least slightly.


Another thing to consider is that degrees are not perfect conduits into career.From my experience in finance/investment undergraduate degree is not a roadblock factor on career path. My coworkers come from a wide variety of undergraduate majors, not everyone was business/accounting/finance/economics etc... It may be harder to forger a path with a degree that isn't a perfect fit but it is definitely possible


As for how changing majors will affect graduation that depends on a number of factors, mainly the graduation requirements for the new major, for example International Relations may require four years of language so if you switch into that there will be some summer school language course in your future.

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Malorie’s Answer

Simran,


I think it is becoming more and more common for students to change their majors. With the pressures of society to "know what you want to be when you grow up," I think a lot of students dive into a major only to find it is not what they thought it would be. I would recommend starting in general studies if you do not know, and taking classes in areas that interest you. There is nothing wrong with taking a few semesters to determine what you really want to major in. If you switch majors years into your college curriculum, it could take additional semesters to catch up and graduate with your degree.

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Stacey’s Answer

I had no idea either what major to pick when I was a senior, and I certainly wasn't alone! Since I wasn't 100% sure when I started college, I picked a very general major. However, as time went on, I started to pick out bits and pieces of topics in those classes that were interesting to me, and it helped me narrow my focus and eventually switch to a degree that was a better fit.


I really think taking time to focus on what you like in high school and even your first year of college can really help you choose a path. Starting college and identifying the classes you do like (and don't like), and then combining those with your interests (books you like to read, TV shows you like to watch, people you admire, etc), you may start to see a common theme as I did. Of course, the earlier you discover this, the better, but don't feel like you have to know exactly on day 1.


I hope this helps and good luck!

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Jessica’s Answer

It is very common to switch majors but my advice to you is to finish all general ed classes with a science track to finish. Business, medical, engineering, and even education will all require different coursework but if you stick with science geared gen ed you should be safe. My biggest mistake was thinking I had to have my major picked right from the start. I switched my major four times and it took me 6 1/2 years to graduate and then another 1 1/2 to obtain my Master's- and a whole lot of school loans. First two years spend time on general ed classes then make a decision. And, the decision needs to be something you are passionate about but be realistic about what jobs are available!

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Matthew’s Answer

Hi Simran,
It is very common for people to switch majors while they are in college. Depending on how far into the college you are when you switch majors may affect how long it takes to graduate.
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