Change of Major

It’s time to face facts: the major you declared in your freshman year isn’t holding your interest anymore. You’ve come to realize that the area you started in just isn’t for you. Or, you want to take the leap into that field that’s always intrigued you. Ready to take that step? Here’s how to change your college major.

The first step is to take inventory of the coursework you’ve done so far. Look up the general requirements that you need to graduate— the requirements that apply to all students, regardless of major— and figure out how much you still have left to do. If your school has an online tool to help you check if you’ve satisfied your requirements, use it; otherwise, the advising office can supply a worksheet that will help. As a rule of thumb, most students satisfy most of these requirements in their first two years of college.

Once you’ve taken stock of your progress toward your general requirements, take a look at the prerequisites for the major you’re considering. The major department’s website is a good place to find this information. If your school has an online tool that can calculate your progress towards a major, you may be able to use it to check prerequisites. Don’t forget that majors may require not only that you’ve taken a particular course, but that you’ve earned above a certain grade in it. If you haven’t completed quite all the prerequisites yet, check the department’s policy— it may be possible to apply to a new major while prerequisites are still in progress.

Next, you’ll need to investigate whether your desired major is open or competitive. Open majors are available to any student who has completed the prerequisites; declaring an open major is mainly a matter of paperwork. Competitive majors have a special application process, sometimes including an essay or interview. Again, the major department’s website should explain the process. Put any relevant deadlines on your calendar.

If you haven’t yet, this is probably a good time to contact an academic adviser for the new major. Write an email introducing yourself and asking a few specific questions, or asking to schedule an appointment in person; or attend a drop-in session, if available. When you go to your appointment, bring the information you’ve gathered so far about your academic progress, and plenty of questions.

Before you make your final decision to declare a new major, it’s important to make sure that you can complete the major’s requirements in the time you have available. This isn’t just a matter of the number of credits required; remember that not every course is offered every term, so it may be difficult to schedule the courses you need. Ask for help with this when you meet with the adviser for the new major, or return to that online tool or worksheet. It’s not unusual for students who change their majors in their junior year or beyond to find that they need to stay an extra term or two. Summer and online course offerings may be able to help you meet your original graduation date.

Finally, actually changing your major will require paperwork. Make sure your application materials for a competitive major are submitted on time! Typically, you’ll also need signatures from advisers or other staff in both your new major and your old one in order to make the change final. Many students are uncomfortable telling faculty or advisers in the original major that they’re leaving. Don’t worry— college faculty are in the business of helping students succeed; they’ll just be pleased to hear that you’re doing something you’re excited about.

Remember, every college and university has slightly different policies and procedures surrounding major changes, and there may be special restrictions that apply in your particular situation. To be sure there’s nothing you’re missing, don’t just rely on the college catalog or website. Visit an academic adviser to talk about your plans as soon as possible. Not only can an adviser help you be sure you’re not forgetting any crucial details, he or she may also be able to smooth the process for you, or suggest options you hadn’t considered.