Regardless of whether you came from a position in which you felt fully knowledgeably of what you wanted to do after college or if you have been confused and searching for a secure major from the start, changing your major can be a complicated, stressful and sometimes perplexing experience. It can be overwhelming, taking into consideration the class changes, new unit calculations and brand new focus of study you will need to transition to, but in the end, hopefully, you can land on a new path that you not only enjoy pursuing but will lead to a more satisfying career later on.
According to legendary academic advising author Virginia Gordon’s book titled, “The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge,” around 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation. Hence, the situation of switching majors extends further than merely those of the students who enter college undeclared and more accurately occurs because of a natural progression in interests and mindsets. Is it worth it or burdensome? Is it a sign of indecision or is it merely a reflection of the personal growth we experience as students? Will it lead to a more difficult route of college or will it be worth it in the long run? Let’s see how these three Highlander writers reflect on this groundbreaking decision and the role it ultimately played in their college experiences.
Title: A beautiful irony
Author: Adrian Garcia, SSW
When I came to UCR, I was somewhat skeptical of the music major I chose to study. See, when I was in high school, I became heavily involved with music. I started playing the guitar during these four years of my life and I loved every ounce of it. You could definitely say I was one of those students who were in the midst of a metal-slash-rocker phase. I had the long hair and black clothing and only listened to bands like Metallica, The Doors and The Beatles. Laugh all you want but I enjoyed it.
It was my dream to start a band during my high school days. I got involved with a good friend who was a drummer and I would frequent his house for jam sessions — him on drums and me on electric guitar. I even performed at the high school talent show which saw me facing off against another guitarist in an electric guitar battle (which was all improvised, mind you).
So when graduation came and I had to choose what I wanted to study, music was the only thing that was relevant to me. I was skeptical toward the music major only because there wasn’t much to do in the career except teaching it. But into the fray I went.
And I loved it. It seems contradictory for me to say that I loved it when I’m supposed to advise you on how to cope with a major change, but at the time, I did. Having to perform for class on your guitar for a final? Awesome. Having to perform in an ensemble mariachi because it was required? I was hesitant at first, but it ended up being one of the best classes I’ve ever taken in my educational experience. Making new friends through the love of music? Amazing.
But then, I came to a realization. Having a hard time understanding the assignments given to you? Challenging, but I just needed to study more. Seeing everyone else in class get better grades than you? Wow, everyone knows how do this pretty well. Realizing that everyone in your class probably had some music education prior to declaring music as their major unlike you? Oh, that sucks. Realizing you only chose music as a major because you like it as a hobby and would rather much keep it as that? Absolutely terrible.
What I learned
At the beginning of my second year, I decided to call it quits on music and move on to be an English major. I am now in my fifth year and will be graduating very soon. You guessed it: That major change impacted the pace at which I was able to complete my units.
Financial aid wasn’t pretty for me either. Since Cal Grant only counts for four years, I had to pay some of the expenses for my fifth year from my pocket. Not to mention I also had friends I thought I was going to graduate with who instead went on and lived their lives while I still had one more year to go.
In the process of changing my major, I learned that it is absolutely valuable to make sure you know exactly what you want to study. But for all the frustrations and problems that arose due to me changing my major and staying another year, I see a beautiful irony in it. I do not regret starting out as a music major nor do I regret staying another year.
IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL IRONY FOR ME — THAT SUCH A TROUBLING ISSUE SUCH AS CHANGING MAJORS AND NOT GRADUATING ON TIME CAN LEAD TO UNEXPECTED GROWTH AS A PERSON.
I loved performing in a mariachi ensemble on-stage or off-stage, whether it was at the University Theatre or outside the HUB. I loved being under the guidance of one of the greatest instructors I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing (Ms. Sobrino, may she rest in peace). And I loved forming bonds through the shared love of music. These experiences made me grow as a person, and without them, I wouldn’t be the same. In the end, I just learned that I can still follow my love for music without a music major.
And staying another year yielded me more moments and experiences I won’t forget with organizations such as Latino Union and The Highlander. I often think how terrible I would feel for not joining the organizations sooner if I graduated last year. I’m just so glad that staying a fifth year granted me the ability to stay with them for much longer.
It’s such a beautiful irony for me — that such a troubling issue such as changing majors and not graduating on time can lead to unexpected growth as a person. So maybe you’re feeling unsure of yourself because you just changed your major or are still undecided in declaring one. You fear that you’ll end up going past four years at this very school. You will undoubtedly go through hardships because of it, but I tell you from experience that no matter how difficult the journey seems, the lessons and moments you experience along the way always lead to a beautiful destination.
Title: The opportunity cost
By: Daniel Tsai, CW
Decisions are never easy. One of the hardest decisions that I have had to make was definitely choosing majors. After high school, I decided to become a biochemistry major primarily because I enjoyed AP Biology and AP Chemistry. I thought to myself, “If I love biology and chemistry, I should totally do biochemistry!” This could not have been farther from the truth. My sister had to convince me that biochemistry was not what I expected it to be; she showed me a biochemistry book and the extensive amount of information that I had to memorize. Only two days later, I emailed my counselor and asked to switch to biology. And during those two days, there were a lot of factors to consider: “Am I able to take extra classes such as Spanish?”, “Can I graduate early?” and “Do I actually enjoy biochemistry?”.
Furthermore, I set up two four-year plans which laid out the classes that I would take as a sophomore, junior and senior. UCR has an array of tools that describe the related upper-division courses, the regular upper-division courses and the number of elective units a student has, either from AP classes or community college. These resources were incredibly useful when organizing classes in a four-year plan.
What I learned
Overall, I realized that biology was more akin to my interests: I love learning various subjects within the field, such as microbiology, molecular biology and immunology. Much like Leonardo da Vinci, I consider myself a Renaissance man who wants to try everything. Because I want to pursue an MD-PhD, the introductory classes that biology offers would be incredibly useful when deciding which research I want to go into. Biology is much more flexible, allowing me to take extra Spanish classes, graduate a quarter early and participate in the organizations that I love. And in the end, I am glad that I have made the decision to drop biochemistry; the process of changing majors was definitely overwhelming, but it taught me how to make tough decisions.
Through these risky and complex choices, I learned that despite the pressure of changing majors, it is all worth it in the end. Ultimately, I embraced my decision and never looked back. I am not saying that it was easy; changing majors was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make. I was under pressure from my parents and friends to pursue biochemistry, especially because people regard biochemistry majors as incredibly “smart.” However, In the end, it is important to pursue your desires and never make a decision based off of peer pressure.
In reality, we don’t have our lives planned out to the tee. We may not know what to pursue as a career, which major to take or even what skills we may have. Go out, sit in on those “biochemistry” classes and see if you actually enjoy that subject. Life is about experiences. Do not be afraid to take the first leap.
Title: Leaping from the sciences to the arts
By: Christina Zavaleta, CW
When I was a little girl, all I ever wanted was to become a veterinarian. I loved animals with all my heart and wanted to do anything I could to help them and work with them. Fast forward to my senior year of high school and I found myself applying to schools with veterinary science majors as well as other good majors in that field. And, I was denied by some, leading me to come to UCR as a biology major. I was thrilled to be studying biology and hoped to try my luck at veterinary medical schools after I graduated. But soon enough it hit me: After taking multiple calculus courses and juggling that with extracurricular activities, I realized I just wasn’t cut out for the life of a science major. It was too rigorous for me, and I found myself questioning whether or not I really wanted to be a vet. And I decided that, since I wasn’t happy where I was at, I would change to something I really saw myself working as in a few years.
That’s when my friend told me about his media and cultural studies classes. I decided to take one as a breadth course, just to test the waters, and I fell in love with it. I was hungry for information. I wanted to learn more and read more. There was this drive I had never felt before, something pushing me to keep going. And with that, I went to my advisor and asked to change my major to media and cultural studies. At first, it was scary. MCS was on a completely opposite side of the scale from biology. And not only did I have to change majors but I had to change colleges within the university as well. However, I persisted. I attended seminars and constantly emailed my potential academic advisor as well as my current one. I went through the paperwork and did plenty of freaking out before I made it official. And I don’t regret making that switch one bit. I am much happier with myself, more content and comfortable around my peers and find myself also being more confident. I recommend to anyone who is on the fence about changing their majors to just do it. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t, and if you’re unhappy, then change that. I promise that you won’t regret the experience.
What I learned
The only hard part was the process of switching, which is what puts people off a lot. The work put into switching is long, and it’s definitely not easy. Making sure your old breadth courses are acceptable to your new major is nerve-racking because you don’t want to have wasted your time in classes you didn’t even need. And making sure you still fulfill all new requirements to your new major is unsettling too since you have to change your entire course plan and outlook for the rest of your college career, and maybe even beyond.
But in the end, it’s all worth it when you can settle into an environment that is not only refreshing but also more suited for you as a person. Now, speaking as an old CNAS major, I know what it’s like to hear scornful comments from other majors in your college about “downgrading” to CHASS. I experienced it, as well as was forced to live with people who just didn’t know what it felt like to want to reach their goals bad enough.
But in all reality, CNAS and CHASS are two completely different colleges, one no better than the other. Different people go into different majors for different reasons, and sometimes those who question your decision and criticize you for it might not realize that. My advice to anyone feeling like they might be looked down upon by friends for changing their major is to just ignore them. This is your life, not theirs. Just because they know exactly what they want to do, or if they say they do, doesn’t mean you can’t either. You can be uncertain, and you can try new things. That is what college is all about: Learning who you are as a person and getting to know what you really like and taking risks. So, even though it may seem intimidating to switch your major, it’s doable. And it is worth it if you just give it a try. And, if you don’t like it, switch again! Who says you can only switch once? It’s OK to want to explore more, power to you!