The Tuesday Q&A: Is It Easy To Switch Majors?

MBA FAQ, MBA frequently asked questions, bschool questions, mba questionsQuestion:

How easy is it to change my major once I’ve already started school?

Answer:

So, your major in Underwater Basket Weaving isn’t what you thought it would be, huh? We get it, man. That happens a LOT to college students in every field, at every school. You get through a year of your economics major, and you decide that it’s just… not for you. But you REALLY enjoyed that electrical engineering class you took last semester and want to switch majors. So, how easy is it?

Well, that depends on a few things. First, are you switching programs in the same school – say, from chemical engineering to civil engineering? If so, the transition shouldn’t be tooooooooo hard. Chances are that admissions requirements and prerequisites are almost, if not exactly, the same. As they’re in the same department, you’ll probably be hitting up the same advisors and professors with your questions about changing majors. Go ahead and reach out to your current advisor and the advisor in the department you’re interested in to get the ball rolling.

Now, if you’re switching schools in your college—say, from political science to civil engineering—then you’re looking at a MUCH bigger challenge. When you got admitted to your college, they judged your GPA and SAT/ACT scores based on the program you applied to. If you got into a liberal arts program based on great verbal and writing scores, but didn’t do as well on your math testing, then it will be harder to convince them that a transfer is right for you.

Also, once you leave your specific school within the college, you’ll be risking that your previous credits won’t go towards your new major, which could lengthen the amount of time you need to graduate. If you’re totally determined, though, don’t let that hold you back. Reach out to advising staff in your desired program and ask what it takes to make the change.

Now, no matter what program you’re switching from or switching to, make sure you do it early enough. Lots of schools have a credit hour limit on how long you can wait to make a change (usually in the 2-3 year range). On top of that, if you’re receiving scholarships or financial aid, it may be based on your previously declared major, so be sure that you can safely make the switch without putting your entire college career at risk—you know, no big deal.

The biggest thing to make sure of is that you are SURE of this switch. You’ve gotta KNOW that you’re going into something that you want to stick with, because too many switches could hurt your long-term academic record (Why did it take you six years to get a Bachelors of Arts in English?). If you’re sure of it, though, go for it.

— Jon Frank

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