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Categorized | Paying For College

Why It’s Never Too Late To Change Your Major

It’s no secret that college is expensive. The expectation of as many high school students as possible to advance to college has set the bar high for incoming freshman, and college tuition has gone up dramatically over the past few years. Consider the increasing number of college applicants combined with an economic downturn and high levels of employment, and this generation of students are presented with a unique dilemma of balancing their preferred career path with job security. It’s a romantic idea to follow your dream and become a philosophy or art history major, but unless you’re independently wealthy or really creative with scholarships and giveaways, you’ll have to decide if it’s financially worth making a change.

The decision is even harder if you’re changing your majors late in your college career. If you change your major early on, or stay within your department, you can most likely graduate on time and at little to no additional tuition cost. But if you wait until your third or fourth year, you may have to delay graduation, pay extra tuition, or even switch schools. There are pros and cons to changing majors later in your college career, so weigh your options and the consequences carefully. While it’s a difficult one to make, you won’t be alone in this decision: reports that 50 percent of college students change their major at least once. Remember that a starting salary may not be the only consideration when making your decision. As such, consider some of these unforeseen benefits:

Switching Your Major Can Give You Greater Marketability
If you have a background in one major and switch to a different one, regardless of whether it is related to your first major, you may expand your marketability for certain positions. A biochemistry major that becomes a molecular biology major may find that her education is broader and her understanding of the course matter is deeper as a result, and she may have an easier time finding jobs. Conversely, switching to a major that is completely different from your first choice (switching from biochemistry to English, for example) might enable you to solve problems in a more creative way than a candidate who has always had the same concentration.

Late Graduation Becoming the Norm
Generally, different majors have different prerequisites, and if your new major changes drastically from your old one, you’ll still have to take those. Some core courses may transfer without problem, but major requirements will still have to be fulfilled. As a result, changing your major, especially across departments, may result in delayed graduation of up to a year.

While staying in college longer can present unique financial burdens, students shouldn’t worry about this move being uncommon or unappealing to employers; a recent study showed that today only 31% of students attending public universities earned their bachelor’s degree in 4 years (the 4 year graduation rate for private schools lingers just above 50%).

With delayed graduation comes, of course, extra tuition costs. An extra semester or extra courses have to be paid for, and many people find that their financial aid runs out or becomes more difficult to secure for extra years. You have to measure your new major’s marketability and earning potential against the extra costs, while keeping projected job satisfaction in mind. The added cost of an additional year in school may be ameliorated by taking additional courses or summer classes. Alternatively, some colleges accept transfer credits earned over the summer from more affordable institutions, such as community colleges.

The Importance of Job Satisfaction

If you start out in a very practical major but don’t feel as if you’re chasing your dream, switching majors can be a very good move. It’s hard to put a price on job satisfaction; if you change from architecture to art history, you may end up making less money than if you stuck with your original major; but if art history is your true passion, it’s really hard to argue in favor of sticking with a money-maker that also makes you miserable. If you have to take a bit of a loss in terms of tuition or earning potential, it may be worth it in the long run, even from a financial perspective. CNN recently pointed out the importance of job satisfaction on overall health and career success. Students who are second guessing their major should consider more than just immediate financial factors when performing a cost-analysis of two potential career paths. Being dissatisfied with a career can affect your health and productivity, meaning a higher starting salary may not be worth it in the long run. In counterpoint, poverty can have a very real negative effect on job satisfaction as well, so it is important to perform a holistic analysis of the costs and benefits.

Whether you choose to stick with your initial major or go with something completely different, it is important to weigh all the options, advantages and disadvantages available to you. Enlist the professionals at your university for help. Talk to financial aid advisers, career counselors and professors in your current and intended second major. Try securing an internship or volunteer opportunity directly related to the major you are considering transferring into to see if it is a good fit. Making an informed choice is the best way to lessen the financial impact and make the right decision for your education.

About the Author

Today’s guest article is provided by Lindsey Davidson, an Ontario MBA student and blogger, who writes on topics ranging from personal finance to online dating.

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One Response to “Why It’s Never Too Late To Change Your Major”

  1. Jeremy R says:

    I want to change my major, but i want to hurry up and graduate even more. Let me correct myslef, I don’t want to change my major, I want to double major. school is just too time consuming these days.