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TRAN: It is OK to switch your major

Column: Hung Up

Rutgers students may hesitate to change their major due to fears of delaying graduation, but the risk might be worth the reward. – Photo by Evan Leong

Despite many students entering university as undecided and maintaining that status through their first two years, it seems that most college students are expected to instantly know what they want to do both in college and after graduation. The most common questions new college students are asked tend to be about their major or field of study.

In the same vein, students often try to rush to complete their degree requirements. This makes sense on a practical level in terms of efficiency and time management. But this tendency also commonly results in fixating on one subject, causing students to lose or ignore other possible interests.

Students may feel that they want to make the most of their time, so they try to push through for their major and maybe pick up a minor along the way. But it is completely acceptable, and perhaps normal, to want to change majors.

On the low end of estimates, approximately one-third of postsecondary students ever change their major. Furthermore, approximately 10 percent change their major multiple times. At Ohio State University, researchers estimate that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of undergraduate students change their major at least once. In spite of this, 85 percent of them still enrolled in a pre-major or major program. 

University studies can seem like a daunting task, making the idea of purely focusing on a single subject quite appealing. But there is time to be patient and slowly make your way through the major or take seemingly irrelevant courses that spark your interest and may potentially inspire you to change your major.

For example, a bachelor's degree in computer science, a popular credit-intensive major at Rutgers, recommends taking just two computer science courses in the first year, one each semester. In the second year, it recommends a total of four, meaning just two per semester. There are only three required math courses in those two years.

In other words, only approximately half of the courses taken in the first half of college count toward the major. That leaves half of the workload free for seemingly random courses that may be very interesting, perhaps far more so than the presumed career path you entered college with.

As an aside, there is a possible future in practically any major, even niche ones. But the idea of switching majors after already making plans and embarking on a certain path for a few years can be a daunting one, especially considering the personal costs. 

A rightful worry may be that switching majors means falling behind in your studies and coursework, resulting in delayed graduation. On one hand, this is definitely not an unfounded idea, and that delay should be avoided if possible.

On the other hand, while the specific circumstances will always vary on a per-person basis, it can certainly be possible to finish on time even after switching majors.

Presumably, you would switch after already having taken at least one or two courses in the subject matter in order to determine interest in it beforehand. This means that one semester's worth of requirements for that major has already been completed by the time of switching.

For example, switching after two full years of college may seem to inevitably delay graduation. But factoring in that one semester is already completed, that means there are four semesters left to finish the new major, which is definitely possible.

Many majors are between 30 to 36 credits in total. Even with prerequisites posing barriers, filling your final semesters with the degree requirements can fulfill the major.

With a credit-intensive major like computer science, there is even a recommended schedule to accomplish the 55-credit task in just two and a half years, or five semesters.

While many of these courses require prerequisites, there is still room for other classes outside the major. For a less sequential course of study, the credit requirements could be filled even quicker.

Making these kinds of impactful personal decisions naturally brings uncertainty, and it is almost always easier to simply stay the course and finish a path already in the works.

Switching to a more enjoyable path may not be inconsequential or simple, but it can certainly be rewarding without necessarily imposing a delay.

Tyler Tran is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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