Should I Change My Major?Updated: January 23, 2021
When veterans return to school, they’ve likely been out of the classroom for a long time. As a result, they may start with one college major, and then decide they’d rather pursue another one. Switching majors has its pros and cons, so we’ll use this article to help veterans answer the question: should I change my major?
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- What is a College Major?
- Do Majors Matter?
- Pros to Changing Majors
- Cons to Changing Majors
- Should I Change My Major?
- Final Thoughts
What Is A College Major?
Prior to discussing changing majors, we need to actually define college majors. Simply put, a major is the particular subject you specialize in during college. As a result, some universities also refer to majors as concentrations. Once you declare a particular major, you’ll typically spend a third to half of your classes focused solely on that major. As a result, selecting a major commits you to a significant amount of time studying that subject.
Students generally declare majors with both two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees. However, most schools also include a core curriculum. Students must take these core classes, regardless of major. For example, as an engineering major, you still may need to take an English literature course as part of your college’s core curriculum.
In theory, a core curriculum provides you a well-rounded education, and a college major allows you to specialize in a particular area.
Do Majors Matter?
After defining college majors, the next logical question is: do majors actually matter? In other words, will the major you choose impact your future? It depends. More precisely, it depends on why you chose a particular major. Your reason for selecting a major largely determines whether or not that major will impact your future.
Here’s a list of the most common reasons why students choose a college major – and how those reasons affect the importance of a given major:
- Reason 1 – For a particular job: People frequently choose a major based on future job goals. They believe that a given major will help them find a particular job. If seeking a job in a technical field, yes, your major will absolutely matter. For instance, if you’d like to be an electrical engineer, you’ll need to study engineering. However, for “non-technical” jobs, the major becomes less relevant. For example, if you want to work in public relations, you don’t need to major in PR. It may help, but you can demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, and communications skills in any number of different majors.
- Reason 2 – For a particular graduate degree: Similar to jobs, many students select an undergraduate major to set them up for graduate school. In this case, the major often does matter. To apply for most graduate programs, you need to have completed a certain number of prerequisite courses provided by an undergraduate major. If planning on pursuing a Master in Fine Arts degree, you’ll likely have needed an undergraduate major focused in the arts.
- Reason 3 – Personal interest: If you solely choose your major based on personal interests, then the major itself doesn’t matter – only your personal interests do. For example, if interested in history, you’ll want to major in history. If interested in math, you’ll want to major in math. If your only goal for college is to study things that interest you (as opposed to getting a particular job), then no, the major itself doesn’t matter.
- Reason 4 – “Easiest” path: Some people want a degree – any degree. For these individuals, the college major itself doesn’t matter. Rather, they want to finish college as quickly and easily as possible. Mechanical engineering is a notoriously difficult major; if you want to finish college quickly and easily, you probably wouldn’t select this. If motivated by the “easiest” path through college, you’ll want to choose a major that A) has fewer class-hour requirements, B) has an objectively high pass rate, and C) in which you have some aptitude.
Within the context of these reasons for choosing a particular major, we’ll use the next few sections to talk about the pros and cons of changing a major once you’ve started it.
Pros Of Changing Majors
Several advantages exist to changing majors. Students considering this move should determine whether any of the below pros apply to their situation. If so, changing majors may make sense.
- Pro 1 – Change career goals: You may have initially declared a major before you knew what you wanted to do for work. This isn’t uncommon. However, midway through your English literature degree, you may decide you want to become an accountant. In this situation, changing majors from English literature to accounting will allow you to pursue a career in accounting.
- Pro 2 – Allow you to finish your degree: As veterans re-entering academia (or entering it for the first time), we sometimes bite off more than we can chew. For example, you may select a mechanical engineering major, fail the first couple classes, and realize this specialty isn’t for you. At that point in time, you have two broad options. Option 1: keep your current major and fail out of college. Option 2: change your major to something easier and still graduate, albeit without a specialty in mechanical engineering.
- Pro 3 – Allow you to accelerate graduation: Occasionally, time becomes extremely important (especially if you’re running out of GI Bill credits). In these situations, changing a degree may allow you to speed up graduation. For example, assume you spent two years working towards completing a biology major. To complete that major may require another year. However, some schools also offer general science majors. As such, it may be possible to apply your biology credits to meet all of the general science major requirements, speeding up your graduation in the process.
Cons Of Changing Majors
While advantages exist, there are also several disadvantages to changing majors. Students considering this move should determine whether any of the below cons apply to their situation. If so, changing majors may not make sense, especially if these drawbacks outweigh the potential benefits.
- Con 1 – Lose credits: If you have two years of credits towards an accounting major, those class credits likely won’t apply to an engineering major. This means that, while those credits will still exist on your transcript, they won’t apply towards your new major. You’ll need to start over with major-specific classes to get all the credits you need. Of note, some related degrees will have overlapping credits, so you may not lose all of your credits if changing to a similar major.
- Con 2 – Derail degree momentum: This represents a more intangible drawback to changing majors, but it’s just as critical. College is not easy, especially for veterans who’ve been out of the classroom for a while. If you lose your momentum, it becomes very easy to justify just stopping your studies. And, changing majors and resetting your degree clock can absolutely disrupt your momentum. Students should be completely confident that they’ll continue their degree momentum before changing majors.
- Con 3 – GI Bill cost: As veterans, you generally only have 36 months of GI Bill eligibility. If you spend 12 months on one major then decide to switch to another major, you won’t get those 12 months of eligibility back. As a result, changing majors can have enormous costs relative to your GI Bill. And, in extreme cases, changing majors can make the difference between the GI Bill covering all of your degree and you needing to pay a portion out-of-pocket.
Should I Change My Major?
You should not take the decision to change majors lightly. It can cost you a tremendous amount of time, money, and GI Bill benefits. Instead, veterans should ask themselves the following questions:
Why did I choose my major in the first place?
Review the above reasons for choosing a major. Which reason applies to you? Next, determine how your major affects your overall college goals. If you chose a particular major for a specific career or graduate school goal, changing majors doesn’t make sense (unless, of course, you change those future goals).
Do the pros to changing majors outweigh the cons?
After looking at your reasoning behind a certain major, you may realize that changing majors won’t derail your future plans. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should still change majors. Rather, look at the above pros and cons to changing majors. Which ones apply to your unique situation? If, after honest self-reflection, the benefits to changing majors don’t outweigh the associated drawbacks, you shouldn’t change.
Your unique situation will determine the importance of your particular college major. As such, before deciding to change majors, make sure to thoroughly weigh the pros and cons. A wrong decision can cost you a ton of time and money. On the other hand, changing your major may enable you to achieve new goals. Bottom line, don’t make the decision to change majors lightly.
Maurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.