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Students changing majors often do so after freshman year

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An estimated 11 percent of first-year college students since 2012 have changed their majors to colleges different from that of their previous major. Credit: Photo illustration by Mark Batke

An estimated 11 percent of first-year college students since 2012 have changed their majors to colleges different from that of their previous major. Credit: Photo illustration by Mark Batke

Kylie Flickinger, a third-year in sport industry, changed her major from exercise science after her first year at Ohio State and said it was the best decision she could have made.

“The classes I was taking quickly taught me that I hate science, which was the base of my major,” Flickinger said.  “Changing my major was a very easy decision. I wanted to change after my first semester but I wanted to give it a whole year just to make sure.”

That’s not an unusual decision for many first-year students: 11 percent of first-year students since 2012 have switched their majors to colleges different from that of their previous major, said Amy Treboni, director of University Exploration.

More students change their major after their first year than any other year, Treboni said in an email.

“There are quite a few reasons why a student changes after their first year, but some of the most common include misunderstanding of the content or career opportunities for the original major, discovering additional options they had not previously known about that are a better fit or of more interest, taking coursework in the first year that develops interest in a new discipline, and difficulty or disinterest in coursework for the original major,” Treboni said.

Students also find themselves in majors that they, or someone close to them, think they should do but then determine the major isn’t really for them, Treboni added.

“For example, if someone planned on being a doctor but realizes they don’t like the science courses that are required, they may look for other options to help people,” she said. “Majors like public health sociology, human development and family studies and psychology are popular alternatives, but there are many more options as well.”

Although the majority of students who change their majors do so after the first year, some students decide to switch majors later in their collegiate careers.

Maggie Gilbert, a second-year in computer science and engineering, said she changed her major from mechanical engineering during Fall Semester of her sophomore year after realizing that her career goals and the content covered in courses did not exactly match up.

“In engineering, there are different fields that overlap a lot, but mechanical and computer science do not,” she said. “My ultimate goal has always been to program machinery, so my original thought going into college was to understand the machinery, but I just got very frustrated and it was not a great semester and I realized that if I wanted to program in the end, why wouldn’t I just major in programming?”

Gilbert said because she was switching majors within the same college, the transition was easy.

“Overall it was pretty simple,” she said. “I already had a minor started in computer science so it was pretty easy to go back … (I) made a meeting (with my computer science and engineering adviser) and went in there and set up the whole thing to structure, and my schedule still should be good so I can graduate in four years if I schedule wisely and plan well.”

Treboni said she encourages students who are thinking about changing their major to meet with an academic adviser like Gilbert did to discuss their concerns.

“University Exploration advisers work with students who start at Ohio State as undecided, but we also work with a large number of students who start in a major and later rethink their academic plans,” she said. “I am not sure all students know they can use our services at any time in their undergraduate career.”

Flickinger said meeting with her adviser was helpful when she changed her major.

“My adviser helped me not only change my major but also was able to help me get into certain classes that I needed for my new major in order to graduate on time,” Flickinger said.

If students don’t know exactly what they want to change their major to, they can switch to University Exploration in order to explore different options. University Exploration is a way for students to explore different areas of interest before deciding on a major.

The sooner students meet with an adviser to discuss changing their major, the better, Treboni said.

“We can help students understand their options, look at skills, interests and values, and create academic plans that are a good fit,” she said.

Flickinger said changing her major was the right decision to make after her first year.

“I absolutely love my new major and it has given me many more opportunities than I would have had if I stuck with my previous major,”  Flickinger said.  “I have zero regrets about changing my major.”

Gilbert said she also feels happy with her decision to switch majors.

“I definitely think I made the right choice,” she said. “Classes are more interesting and I think just the general people in the environment of my new major is something that I enjoy more.”

3 comments

  1. The pope is catholic.

  2. Well, what is the impact on time-to-graduate? What percentage of the post-freshman-year switchers require at least nine semesters to graduate?

    Notice how there is no indication the administrator gives a crap about that aspect of the issue.

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