What To Do If You're Having "Major" Doubts

By Naomi Fink on November 16, 2020

One question you’ll hear fairly often as a college student is “What’s your major?” For some people, this question is an exciting opportunity to express their passion for computer science, biology, theater, or whatever else they may be studying. For others, however, this question can invoke feelings of anxiety, perhaps because they don’t know the answer or because they know the answer but don’t feel confident in it. If the latter sounds like you, you’re not alone. 

Deciding what to major in and sticking with that decision is tough. According to 2013 surveys, approximately 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided” and approximately 75 percent of students change their major at least once after declaring their field of study. Your college years are a time for you to explore! Others may call it “indecisive” but intellectual curiosity is something we should all strive for…to an extent.

At some point — usually by the end of your sophomore year — you will ultimately need to come to a decision regarding your major. Still feeling unsure after you’ve declared? Here are seven steps to help you figure out your next move when you’re having “major” doubts.

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1. Do some soul searching

This may sound obvious, but the most important thing you can do when you’re having doubts is take the time to stop and think about it. Reflection and introspection are key. Ask yourself the following questions: How do you feel when you think about your major and how long have you been feeling this way? Be honest with yourself. Are you having serious doubts or are you just in a bad mood?

Once you are certain that you’re uncertain, try to think about why you’re feeling this way. Is there something that could be done to improve this feeling? Consider the courses you’ve taken, the professors you’ve liked, and the content you’ve found most interesting. Is there a pattern here? Talking it through with someone can be useful, but before you move on to step two, make sure to get yourself organized. The process of even considering a different major may feel unsettling — uncertainty is scary! — and the best thing you can do is come in prepared. Gather whatever paperwork you might need and start to do some preliminary research before meeting with your academic advisor.

2. Meet with your advisor

Perhaps the first person you should go to when you’re having major doubts is your academic advisor. Although your academic advisor isn’t going to sit with you and sort through your feelings — see steps one and four for this — they can provide you with objective information and resources to help you make an informed decision. Depending on why you’re having doubts, your academic advisor may also be able to adjust certain requirements or department policies to better suit your individual needs.

For instance, if you’re having major doubts because you’re concerned about taking specific classes or fulfilling overall major requirements, there may be some wiggle room within the department. Many advisors are open to course petitions, especially if other students have expressed similar concerns in the past.

Even if your doubts are bigger picture — for example, you’re simply not interested or passionate about the field or can’t see it working out long-term — your academic advisor can still serve as an informational and well-connected resource. Utilize your academic advisor by talking with them about your concerns and seeing if they have any guidance or advice. After all, that’s what they’re there for!

Infographic via Canva

3. Consider your options

Once you’ve spoken with your advisor, consider your options: you could continue with your major as is, you could add an additional major/minor, you could drop your current major down to a minor, or you could swap out your major for something new entirely. Lean into your interests.  What classes have you enjoyed most so far? What’re you passionate about? What makes you excited?

If these answers don’t fall within your department, consider your alternatives. Is there another topic you’d like to explore or another subject you’d rather major in? Sometimes a small shift or adjustment is all you need. For example, a biophysics major may be happier as a biochemistry major and vice versa. Similarly, delving into a more specific concentration within your major — such as picking up a creative writing concentration as an English major — may be just what you need to feel more confident in your studies. The doubts you have about your major and the changes you choose to make do not need to be drastic; little adjustments can make a world of difference in your overall satisfaction.

Then again, big changes are also completely valid and sometimes necessary. Consider your long-term goals. If you want to be an accountant, majoring in something business and/or finance-related is probably a smarter decision than majoring in something totally unrelated such as cinema studies, even if you find the field interesting. Think practically and feel passionately. Is whatever you’re majoring in something you could see yourself being excited about in the future? Not everyone goes into a career related to their major but if you know long-term you may be interested in something specific, it’s worth it to explore the topic while you’re in college.

4. Talk it through

As mentioned in step two, your academic advisor isn’t necessarily the right person with whom to discuss your emotional processing and considerations — but your friends, family, and/or therapists are!

Your family, friends, and therapist know you well. Express your concerns to them and see what they think. Do you genuinely want to consider other majors or are you just having cold feet? Sometimes the people closest to you can provide a more honest answer than you can yourself. Parents, friends, and siblings may also be able to empathize or give advice based on their own personal experiences and knowledge. Besides serving as your emotional support system, your friends and family may be able to help you navigate the process logistically.

In general, learning about people who have switched majors, considered switching majors, or majored in what you’re majoring in can be insightful. If you’re confused, odds are you’re not alone. Discuss your doubts with people who have felt similarly; they may be able to provide guidance or perspective.

Overall, talking through your various thoughts and feelings surrounding your major and your doubts can help you make sense of potentially competing emotions and feel more confident in whatever course of action you choose to take. It may not feel actively productive, but verbally sorting through your emotions and justifying your decisions can be extremely helpful in allowing you to achieve clarity. Sit down or schedule a phone call with the people closest to you to talk through your thoughts and emotions regarding your major and career choices.

5. Try out other classes

Before you come to a final decision about keeping, switching, or in any way changing your major, try out other classes within the department and in other departments you may be interested in. You never know — you may fall in love with another major or realize that you’re actually quite happy right where you are!

Particularly if you’re early on in your college career, it’s possible that you’re in the right major but have simply taken the wrong classes. Any given department offers a wide variety of courses; don’t let one or two bad experiences represent the entire field of study. Try out a few more courses within the department before switching out. Ask upperclassmen and/or the head of the department for course recommendations. Many universities also have course reviews and professor ratings online that you can check out to get a better sense of the major.

You may also want to try out courses in other departments. Is there a different topic that sounds intriguing to you or another passion you’ve always wanted to pursue? Go for it! Trying out seemingly random courses is a great way to broaden your horizons and check out different majors firsthand with little to no commitment. Look at your requirements to make sure you have enough elective credits to play around with and enjoy the exploration experience that is college!

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6. Be practical

It’s important to explore your options and to have fun while doing so. It’s also important to be practical. After you’ve tried out a few courses, it’s time for the practical side to kick in. In addition to thinking long-term (see step seven) about your career prospects in a given major, keep the short-term in mind. How many credits do you need to graduate? And at this point in your college career, do you have enough credits to graduate on time if you switch your major? Alternatively, is changing your major worth postponing graduation? Do any of your major credits overlap with another major?

You don’t need to plan out your whole life as a college student. However, the occasional reality-check will help you stay grounded and on track — whatever track that may be — to graduate. You may shift your timeline by graduating early or tacking on an extra semester or even an extra year. And that’s okay! But at some point, you’re going to want to graduate. Be practical about your goals and major decisions.

7. Think about your future

Choosing a major and graduating from college are just the beginning of the journey. Hopefully, you will be a working and contributing member of society for many years to come! While your major does not determine your future, considering the general direction that your major will lead you in can be helpful.

Ask yourself the following: Given your current major and work experience, what career options will be available to you if you continue on this path? Do these possibilities excite you? If you could do anything with your future, what would you want to do? Will your major help you get there?

Setting goals and having direction are cornerstones of grit — and grit leads to success. As grit expert Angela Duckworth explains, grit is where passion meets perseverance. Figure out your passion by thinking about your future. Where your interests, values, strengths, and life’s demands intersect, you’ll find your calling.

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8. Trust your instincts

At the end of the day, if the subject you’re majoring in doesn’t feel right to you, don’t be afraid to make a change. You should be excited by and proud of your major! If you’re dreading your classes — and not just because they’re challenging or you’re hitting a mid-semester slump — it may be a sign that you’re in the wrong field. Do not give up on finding the right one!

Trust your instincts and find your people. Commit to a major that feels right to you and remember that whatever decision you make, you’re not stuck. Many people go into careers that are not related to their majors and/or change career paths at some point in their lives. It’s ok to be one of those people. (It’s also ok not to be!)

No matter where you are in the major doubts process, try to keep an open mind and maintain a positive attitude. You may not be able to confidently answer the “What’s your major?” question yet but you’ll be able to soon, and just being able to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure yet” with confidence is a step forward in itself.

Take charge. If you’re having “major” doubts, do some soul searching, chat with some people, explore your options, be practical, and ultimately trust your instincts. Use the seven tips outlined above to figure out your next move each step of the way. Keep striving and good luck!

Naomi Fink is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to being a Uloop writer, Naomi is the Marketing Manager at Positive Voices. Some of Naomi's hobbies include hiking, volunteering, yoga, swimming, art, and of course, writing!

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