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What’s Your Major? For How Long?

At Christmastime, I had the opportunity to visit with one of my younger cousins–we’ll call her Melissa–who is currently in the tumultuous process of applying for colleges and trying to decide which one to attend.

Melissa is a great student, active, and an athlete, so she has a multitude of opportunities before her. I asked her which colleges she was considering and what major she might choose, at which point Melissa’s mother jumped in to explain that Melissa’s choice of major would dictate which college she chose. “If she majors in X, she’ll go to X University. If she doesn’t, and decides to major in X instead, she’ll go to X College.” Both of the majors my aunt named were pretty specific, and I couldn’t help by wonder, “What happens if, halfway through freshman year, Melissa doesn’t want to major in the Mating Behaviors of the Three-Toed Sloth anymore? What if she decides that’s a bit limiting or just not for her? If you’ve put her entire college choice into one major, will she feel confident telling you if she decides she wants to change?”

Now, let me qualify what I am about to say with this disclaimer: I understand that certain colleges and universities are well-known for particular programs, and often, these areas of excellence are a factor in a student’s college decision. Frankly, they should be. But know this: 75-80% (that’s right, eight of ten) college students change their majors at least once.

For some students, changing majors is like changing undergarments: they do it regularly and often and don’t think much of it. For most others, though, it’s a big decision because of the scenario I’ve laid out with Melissa. They get to a point where they realize they need to change majors (I’ll discuss some of the reasons for this in later blogs) and they panic a little bit, thinking a) this is the only thing I’ve ever envisioned myself doing, but now I need/want to do something else. How do I re-frame my life around this new goal? b) how do I tell my parents, who sent me here to major in X, that I think I’d rather major in International Studies?

My point is that a student (and parent) basing his/her entire understanding of the school solely and exclusively around one department has a few unfortunate consequences: the student and parent get a very narrow, limited view of the value and appreciation of the university as a whole, s/he often puts a lot of weight behind the idea of a major change and becomes so hesitant to do it–even when it should happen–that it affects his/her academic career and happiness. On this note, bear in mind another statistic: 85% of students find a major they like and succeed in. So, just because your student changes his/her major, doesn’t mean s/he is less likely to achieve his/her goals.

There’s no way to know if your student will change majors, but be aware that it may happen. This is one of the values of a liberal arts education—there are solid programs everywhere you turn. At Bellarmine, we encourage students to pursue the interests which are intellectually stimulating to them, but with a bent toward practicality (for example, a Philosophy student with a Business minor makes a great law school candidate). Bottom line: your student can be successful (and employable) in any major at Bellarmine. Encourage your student to embrace all the elements of his/her education and the stellar university s/he’s chosen.

Don’t put all your eggs in one major, er…um…basket, because you may have to switch baskets later. If you’re so focused on one, you’ll miss the good in all the others, and you risk entirely overlooking the one place where the real potential lies: your BU Knight.

Jessica  Hume, BU C/o 2005
Director of Writing and Parent Communications

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About Cassie

I'm the Director of the Writing Center and Director of Parent Communications at Bellarmine University.

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