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Students Stressing About Changing Your Major: You’re Not Alone

By Joseph D’Andrea

If you’re thinking about changing your major, you’re not alone. Many students who choose their majors in high school—an often nerve-wracking decision—ultimately find themselves on track with a different career path in mind once they’ve spent some time in college.

A study by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics found that “33 percent of bachelor's degree pursuers who entered college in 2011-12 and 28 percent of students in associate degree programs had changed their major at least once by 2014,” as reported by Inside Higher Ed in 2017. This is reflected at Adelphi as well. As noted by Linda Jean-Louis, associate registrar for scheduling and reporting at Adelphi, who serves at the One Stop Student Services Center, “Our numbers by term (fall and spring) indicate our first- and second-year undergraduate students request a change of major more often than third- and fourth-year undergraduates.”

The tendency for college students to change their minds regarding their studies is not uncommon. So what a college does to aid these students who are either having a different profession than their current major already in mind or are entirely uncertain about their future, is crucial.

“If a student is going to change their major, it most often happens during the first or second year,” said Andrea Ward, the interim associate provost for student success who oversees academic support units on campus. “The reasons for major changes are extremely varied. However, one of the more popular reasons is that the student becomes extremely interested in a new area based on a class they have taken. Students must choose a major by the time they have completed 64 credits, which is usually around the second semester of the sophomore year.”

She said that students are often worried about "wasting" credits. “But there is room in most majors for electives. All students receiving a degree need at least 120 total credits so there is some room to explore different areas. Students can also use their PATH (general education) requirements to investigate other majors. Those courses count for every major.”

Those like Ward, who have familiarity with those considering a change in major, offer support that allows students facing this dilemma to be led down a more structured path. Students must commit themselves to putting in the necessary effort, but through the advice they can receive from Adelphi faculty, the process becomes all the more approachable.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in college end up changing their major at least once.

“I tend to suggest students take a class or two in the area they are considering switching to,” Ward said. “Another great way to learn more is to join a club that is tied with that program or talk to students in that major. The Center for Career and Professional Development is another amazing resource for students who are exploring different career possibilities. While it can be stressful to make the leap, most students I have spoken with later are so happy that they made the decision. They have truly found where their interests lie.”

Junior Ghila McBrien changed her major from social work to communications with a concentration in media studies in the spring 2022 semester. “I found myself looking more into films and television and how they are made. I love social work, and I love how it helps communities, but I wanted a bit more,” she said. “In the future, I would like to help enhance enriching and educational programming for children, but my advisor told me that social work would not be ideal for that. Instead, she recommended communications. That very day, I began the process of changing my major. My new advisor helped me pick out classes that brought me closer to my goal. Now, I feel that my classes are more connected to what I want to do.”

For some students, a positive experience with a professor could be enough to pursue a different path. “I used to be into journalism and public relations, and I was good at it, but not super passionate,” said senior Jade McClinton-Dorley. “So, I took classes with Professor [Terrence] Ross who helped me realize my potential and just gave me a little push. Then I changed my [concentration] to digital production and cinema studies and it's been awesome.”

Some challenging programs see changes more than others, and a student might even consider dropping out because they’re worried they can’t complete their course load. Changing their major to something that better suits them is a good option. Dr. Ward said, “Sometimes students have a very narrow view of the future and exploring other areas helps to see that there are so many possibilities that are open to them.”

Nursing advisor Joanne Maldonado has been at Adelphi for 16 years as a senior student relations specialist. She said, “I've only seen that students change from nursing mostly in their second or third semester of being at Adelphi because they are failing mostly science courses and find it too hard for them to continue. They mostly switch to health sciences, social work or biology. My students pick some of these majors because some of their science courses will be accepted in these majors.”

Maldonado said she meets with the students, advises them what to take for that semester or the next and looks up their GPAs. “If they don't meet the required GPA then we let them know and to try and get it up to the required GPA of 3.3. If I think they will not make it in nursing by looking at their grades, I will also suggest thinking about a different major and why I am suggesting this, but it's entirely up to them.”

For Adelphi students who may be caught in the problem of concretely declaring a major, services on campus, and support from other students who have been through the same situation, can provide relief.

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