The decision to change majors can feel like a personal crisis. I understand and have counseled many students and children through such a decision. So I asked HBU faculty and staff what advice they had for students who were thinking about changing degree plans. They were empathetic and encouraging.
It’s okay to change your major.
Dr. Lisa Ellis, professor of biology in our College of Science and Mathematics, changed her major while in college and shared with me why she decided to make that decision, “I flipped my minor and major during my undergraduate career. I looked at the course catalog and degree plans for each and felt that the biology courses were more exciting and interesting than my computer science courses. I made the decision after my sophomore year so there was time to complete my major courses on time.”
Cassie Sorrell, HBU’s Campus Recreation coordinator, gave a simple piece of encouragement regarding changing your major: “It is OK! The majority of people don’t know their career path at the age of 18 when you’re originally asked to select a major. Do your research, use the resources provided at HBU, talk to people, pray about it, and be confident in what God has called you to do.”
The other answers formed a practical list of four main steps, accompanied by thoughtful questions
1. Ask why.
Have you discovered a new passion?
Why do you want to change majors? What/where is your heart passion – will this new major help you share/achieve your passion? – Dr. Lesli Fridge, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
Excitement is the natural fuel of success. You have a much better chance to succeed at something that truly excites you, something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. So pay attention to your heart as well as your brain. If you do not really enjoy and look forward to the classes you are planning to major in, you need to think twice, especially if there are other classes that you genuinely enjoy and that give you a sense of fulfillment. Ideally, find something you not only enjoy and that gives you a sense of satisfaction, but also that you do well. – Dr. Jerry Walls, School of Humanities
Have your goals changed?
Understand why you want to change majors, to what purpose/end. – Dr. David Davis, School of Humanities
Students should be open not only to learning new things they may not have imagined, but also open to discovering new career and vocational directions. – Dr. Jerry Walls
Is your current program more difficult than you expected?
As a pre-nursing advisor, I often see students come into this major with a pre-determined idea of how they conceive it will be, only to discover it can be much more difficult and competitive than they realized. Some also pursue nursing because they want to please a family member or friend. – Lisa Staha, School of Nursing and Allied Health
You haven’t failed if you change majors because of the difficulty level. If you choose engineering and struggle to pass your first basic math course, you may have chosen a degree that didn’t align with your strengths. The difficulty you are experiencing could be a sign that your gifts are better suited along another path. Recognize that early and make a change. – Joannah Buffington, Office of the President
Evaluate: Is your reason for changing majors valid? Have you talked to people who are in the degree program you want? Have you looked at the long-term goals generally associated with both majors? Is your new passion something that has been consistent, or do you tend to waiver back and forth?
2. Pray about this decision throughout the process.
Pray and meditate on it for at least one week. – Dr. David Davis
Pray diligently about this decision before taking the leap. – Dr. Katie Alaniz, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences
I always tell my advisees to take some time to pray and think about what they have a true passion for and what their God-given talents are. Take those to the Lord in prayer and you will discover what your true purpose is. If it’s not nursing, that’s okay. Not everyone is called to be a nurse or a teacher, etc. We are all put here for our own purpose, and if you will allow God to show you what that is, you will find a career that you enjoy and that fulfills you. – Lisa Staha
Evaluate: Are you at peace with the idea of changing majors and possibly changing your life pursuits? Are there any sinful desires associated with changing majors for which the Lord has convicted you?
3. Seek wise counsel.
Seek the counsel of those you trust, such as parents, mentors, advisors, and wise friends. Ultimately, you will never regret pursuing professional endeavors that align with your giftings and passions and enable you to fulfill the purpose to which you’ve been called. There is no better place to be than in the center of God’s will, even if this involves doing something other than originally planned. – Dr. Katie Alaniz
Evaluate: What do your parents and mentors think? Has a mentor expressed concern with your plan to change majors? Have you taken their concern seriously and listened with humility? Have you been able to clearly articulate to these people why you want to change majors – if you can’t communicate the reason, you need to go back to step 1.
4. Always talk to your academic advisor.
Evaluate the effect on your schedule.
Students should not be afraid to change their majors or to add a second major or minor. However, always speak with your advisor first so you have a specific plan for progress towards your degree. This should include which classes you will need to take and when those classes will be offered so you know if your change in major will affect your graduation date. Also, make sure you understand the implications for your core curriculum on changing a major. – Dr. Matt Boyleston, School of Fine Arts
Will a change mean additional cost?
Before you decide on changing your major, count the cost in time and money. Unless the change is made very early in the program, a change in majors typically means your being in school for one or two additional semesters, and the additional time means additional cost.
If you are thinking of changing your major to a field that is related to your current one, look into the possibility of completing your current program and getting a second degree in the related field. Typically, if you are dealing with a related field, a second bachelor’s degree or a second master’s degree would take no more than three additional semesters. Do not waste close to that time – and the associated cost – in simply changing majors. – Dr. Felisi Sorgwe, School of Christian Thought
Evaluate: What did your advisor say? In this new major, did your graduation date change? If so, are you financially ready to take on that extra cost? Are there better options after graduation that can accomplish the same result and possibly help you reach your goal more quickly?
After you tackle these four steps, gather the necessary information, and commit more time to prayer, then make a decision.
Your major doesn’t define you.
I want to add one last word to conclude this blog. It’s important for you to remember that you’re not defined by your major. In the ancient world, identity was understood in terms of name, your parents’ name, and your home. Obviously, things like your name and where you’re from are very important. But in university life we often ask another question – “What’s your major?” While it’s an interesting conversation starter and a good thing to know when you’re learning about other people at your school, it’s not as crucial as we sometimes imply.
The danger is if you begin to think that your major identifies or defines you. It doesn’t.
Far more important are the questions of who you are, what your gifts are, and what God has called you to do in life. Or, to put it another way, what is your “vocation?” The word vocation refers to “calling.” So, in a much more important sense, the question is what has God gifted you and called you to do in life? That’s much more important than a major. Any given major can lead to any number of job or professional outcomes. For example, majoring in philosophy can prepare you to do all kinds of things – law, journalism, teaching, business – and it can lead you to a graduate program that can help you become professionally competent in any number of fields.
The impressions we give and assumptions we make often give the major too much influence. A college major is an academic focus in an area that involves certain specific competencies, and of course it is important. But the major is only a subset of the far more significant questions related to who you are, what your gifts are, and what God has called you to do.
Thank you to the Houston Baptist University faculty and staff who contributed to this blog.