To change or not to change: the dilemma of switching one’s major

Changing one’s undergraduate major seems to be a scarier thing than changing one’s job. While people have accepted that there should not be “one job for one life”, people still think that there should be just one degree for one’s undergraduate study. It is just four years. Wouldn’t switching a degree program be too disruptive? What if one makes a wrong choice again? If you are now facing the problem of whether to change your major, this article is written for you!

First Principle

The decision to change your program is complex yet simple. It involves many often competing factors of consideration, yet there is probably one factor that carries the most of the weight: you need to follow your heart. To be more exact, you need to study something you personally find interesting and meaningful, so that you feel happy and confident as a student.

Bearing this principle in mind, let’s examine why you may want to change your course and why you may not.

Change at a good timing

If you want to change your course, ideally you should be in your first year. It is not that uncommon to see freshmen change their courses. In fact, the university administration understands that and they don’t expect a high school graduate to know everything in the future. The general policy is in favour of first-year students.

A deeper question to ask

However, being allowed to change one’s course doesn’t mean you will just change it. Doing a degree program is not like buying a T-shirt, something you can always change if you don’t like it. Hence while you are thinking if you should really switch, Digital Senior would like you to think in a different way. Instead of thinking “Should I change to this course”, ask yourself “What made me choose my current course?”

Thinking about such a question helps you uncover the mistakes you made in decision making and helps you avoid making the same mistakes again. Was it because you chose the major simply by looking at its admission score that was the highest you could get? Was it because of the career prestige that the major promised but that now you don’t find attractive (or even real) anymore? Was it because of too much parental influence?

To find out the most common pitfalls students faced in choosing their course of study, click here. Once you have discovered the factor that led to the suboptimal decision, try to avoid them in making the decision to switch. This can greatly reduce the chance of you getting from a program you don’t like to another program you hate even more!

Will I encounter the same problems if I change my course?

It’s important to understand if the things that make you want to change your course are internal or external factors. Internal factors may be things like a fear of failure or anxiety about career prospects. External factors may be difficult professors or challenging exams.

Of course, there may be overlaps as well. After all, facing difficult professors and challenging exams could make one anxious about their future career prospects. However, it’s important to discern if you’re simply anxious by nature or struggling from an anxiety disorder, or if you only feel anxious due to specific external factors.

After all, if you end up wanting to quit your course due to an inability to cope with your fear of failure, this may still end up being a problem after you change your course if it’s an innate part of you. The best way to tell the internal and external factors apart is to ask “would I still feel this way if (factor) didn’t exist?”. If the answer is yes, it’s likely an internal factor, and vice versa.

Do you really know your desired program?

Most often, students choose a program they don’t like because they don’t know enough facts about the program. The facts are not just about the starting salary of the graduates of the program, the admission cut off point or even one’s general impression. Facts are experiences. If you consider changing to a program, talk to the professors and students in that program. Attend their lectures (this requires you to find out their timetables). Read their textbooks in the library or watch some similar online course videos. Be honest with your feelings.

If you feel the strong pulse in your heart, chances are you are at the right place. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine describes this as intuitive wisdom which manifests itself in the form of physiological sensations such as a strong pulse in your heart or intestines. This is also commonly known as the ‘gut feeling, a uniquely human ability that tells you what the right thing to do is. So pay attention to your guts. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you really want to change your course, but there are many things holding you back.

Is getting a degree a must-have for the industry?

Do also consider what would make you employable in the industry you want to change your course to. It may not be worth it to change your course if your degree will likely not be the main thing that will secure you the job. Of course, every university degree is an asset; however, there are many industries that are more concerned with your portfolio, skills, and perhaps internships rather than your grades.

For example, in the writing industry, what will get you employed will be your exemplary writing samples. The person who can show they are a better writer through writing and not simply insinuate it through their grades will get the job. However, if you are hoping to join an industry that has high barriers to entry and technical skills that need to be mastered, such as becoming a surgeon or a lawyer, a degree is essentially a must to compete with the rest.

In general, science degrees will always be seen as more “profitable” because they open more doors for you career-wise. Someone who does a science degree will have an easier time transitioning to a job in the arts compared to the other way round. Having said that, you can find success in both fields so there’s no reason to push yourself to fit a cookie-cutter mould!

Don’t overlook admin matters

If you want to change your course, you need to bear in mind the deadlines set by your school. Once you miss the deadline, you have to wait for another semester before you can possibly change your program. You need to get approval from your current school and the school you want to transfer to. They normally look at your current GPA and admission scores and your statement for reasons of change. Some special schools, especially some arts schools, may even require you to submit your portfolio as part of your application.

Why you may not want to change?

However, if you are well into year two or even year three, things become more different. University generally discourages students from changing for practical reasons. In terms of financial issues, the MOE tuition grant only covers the duration of your new degree program less the duration in which you studied in your previous degree program. Even if finances are not a big issue for you, the opportunity cost in terms of delaying your graduation for more than one year can be high. More forces are in favour of not changing.

Mitigation plans

However, there are many ways to mitigate the situation. First, you can always do a second major/minor or take more electives in the field that interests you the most. While you may not like your current program, tell yourself that it is your responsibility to get good grades out of it.

There are many examples of students who were not necessarily fanatic about their course of study, but still pulled through and ended up doing something else in their career and achieving phenomenal success. International Speaker and author of the bestselling book, ‘The happy student’, Daniel Wong says that schooling is only a part of your education. Daniel himself studied engineering at Duke University where he discovered and worked on his mission to empower people to lead a meaningful life.

You can engage in many other activities as a side-line, such as joining a marketing club, taking up freelance projects or reading books to educate yourself in preparation for a career in a particular area. In doing so, you further your understanding of the course and can better decide if it is right for you. This is of lower risk than just taking the plunge and quitting your course.
Read a book to prepare you for a career

Have I discussed this with anyone?

It’s important to involve others in your decision-making process. Of course, take care to only involve trusted people who know you well and want the best for you. This could extend to family and friends. So why is it important?

Firstly, they can help you figure out why you’re losing interest in your course if you’re not sure yourself. After all, they know your history and can spot your blind spots easier than you can. They can also help to provide another perspective and let you know any other alternative paths of pursuing your dream especially if they are in the industry, striving towards it, or simply know someone who’s in it.

Talking to your parents will also be a must if your tuition grant doesn’t cover it, as your parents will have to help you with your tuition fees unless you can afford them yourself. It’s also important to let your parents know and discuss with them before you make such a big decision to change your course as it will likely change the trajectory of your future career greatly.

How to move forward

If you’re still undecided on whether to change your course or not, you can do more research by browsing forums such as Reddit to ask other students that are in or have been in the same position as you. It would also be good to talk to your friends and family so that you can have people who will keep you grounded yet also support you at the same time.

Your school also has resources you can tap on, such as career advisors, so make sure to visit them if you’re confused about your career prospects.

Make sure to also draw up a plan. Consider every path that you can take and the pros and cons of each. At the end of the day, it is only you who can make up your mind about the right choice. So, let that choice be an informed one!

Once you’ve made up your mind to change your course, simply start the admin process by submitting the form and wait for the outcome! If, however, you decide not to change your course, it may still be worth revisiting why you’re unhappy in your course and consider how you can mitigate the external factors and cope with the internal ones.

A Larger picture

Lastly, you always need to bear in mind a larger picture. In many industries, the relevance of one’s study does not matter that much. Hence even if you think your current degree program won’t increase your chance of getting in, at least it won’t hurt you. And you can always take relevant modules to demonstrate your interest, or apply for the industry’s internship first which is generally easier to get in.

Unless you are aiming at very specific and technical areas of employment, your degree matters less than you think. Your grades matter much more.

Digital Senior understands your situation now. You are in a state of dilemma and there seems to be a sacrifice to be made in either case. You are absolutely right! The point is to make short term sacrifices to secure long term benefits. If you are lost amid the many considerations and voices, go back to the first principle mentioned above: follow and consult your heart.

We would like to thank our contributor, Peggy, for adding to this article! (:

Read part 2: Whats holding you back from changing your course ? 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Digital Senior, may I ask if is it possible to switch university say from SUSS to NTU after year 1 in the same course? Provided that GPA is decent, I.e.-4.6/4.7 out of 5

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