A change in course(s)

Switching your major may help you discover hidden strengths

Your college days have begun, with your future right in front of you — and suddenly you see multiple roads you can take.

What do you do when the path of study you thought was the best for you suddenly isn’t, or another path looks more appealing?

Those questions face anyone who has decided to change their college major.

Katherine, a financial analyst, started college as a biomedical engineering major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

She said that late in her sophomore year, while taking classes more specific to her major, she realized, “I could not envision myself with a career in biomedical engineering. That type of major did not align well with all of my interests and strengths.”

Julie, a teacher, was already on her second school and second major when she decided to change again. After beginning her freshman year as a piano and voice performance major, she switched to English with a minor in political science. When she transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, she didn’t find the political science department a good fit.

“So I tried some education classes, enjoyed them, and landed on teaching,” she said.

When Katherine knew she wanted to opt for a new course of study, she met with an undergraduate studies coordinator, who steered her toward an assistant dean to discuss her goals and options.

She narrowed her choices to a business-related major and then received further direction from an assistant dean at Case Western’s Weatherhead School of Management.

“He helped me outline what core classes I would need as well as the different options I had that were more specialized,” she said. “After taking all of my general business classes that provided a glimpse into different subjects like finance, accounting, marketing, economics, … I was able to discover what my strengths were and what I was most interested in.”

Katherine says she benefited from a strong business management program at Case Western, and said it also helped that she took classes in one major that counted as general requirements toward another. She finished her degree in four years—and even had time to play softball.

Julie, however, was set back financially and in her studies when she switched majors. She was a second semester junior upon her arrival in Omaha, and then she took three more years of coursework before graduating.

“But looking back, I don’t see it as a bad thing,” she said. “I’ve had a fantastic career due to those changes in my college major.”

Julie’s advice to anyone considering a change of major is derived from her experience, as she says, “being a music major … was killing my love of music.”

“Make sure you’re changing majors because you don’t feel passionate about the content—don’t change majors because the content is challenging,” she said. “I became passionate about education. I took challenging classes still, but I never loathed the coursework or felt despondent about what I was learning.”

Katherine encourages students to “volunteer, shadow, or try to experience what major you are looking into firsthand.”

“I would also advise to schedule an appointment with a counselor or dean at your college/university. Their job is to help and provide guidance so they are always willing to assist students along their way to earning a degree. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

It doesn’t matter how many times you might change your major, you can still use your my529 funds on qualified higher education expenses.