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Late major changes cause graduation delay

Francie Johnson

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“It’s a huge decision,” said Tess Severin, a senior majoring in finance. “I feel like everyone in college is kind of going through this right now, because you feel like ‘I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but if I pick the wrong thing then I’m a failure.’”

Severin has changed her major three times since attending The University of Alabama. She started out as a marketing major and changed to finance during her sophomore year. She then switched from finance to accounting after taking an Intro to Accounting course, but after taking more accounting classes, she decided to change her major back to finance this fall.

“When I took my first accounting class, I thought I really wanted to do accounting because I thought it was super easy and it was fun,” Severin said. “It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but you really don’t get that from a basic class.”

Severin is not alone in her journey. According to the Office of the University Registrar, 63 percent of students who start and end their undergraduate careers at the University change their major at least once, and 40 percent change it only once. 

For many students, including Severin, changing majors as a junior or senior often extends their undergraduate career beyond the “typical” four years. To graduate with a degree in finance, Severin must stay at the University an extra semester after her senior year.

“It’s really hard to know what you want to do in four years,” Severin said. “It’s difficult to figure it out. A lot of people stay more than four years, and I think that’s a result of people changing their majors, figuring out what they want to do.”

Dan Maguire, registrar for the Culverhouse College of Commerce, said some students can change their majors as upperclassmen and still graduate in f
our years.

“It depends on the complexity of the curriculum, really, as to how feasible it would be to still be able to graduate in four years,” Maguire said.

Maguire said it’s common for students to begin their undergraduate careers without a definite plan for the future. He said students should have an idea of what they might want to major in by the fall semester of junior year, but if a student is still undecided by that point, talking to an advisor can help him or her stay on track.

“We can structure their course schedule to kind of help them figure it out,” Maguire said. “We’ll say, ‘In your first semester junior year, you’re going to take these courses so if you change your mind, you’re not behind,’ as opposed to just going down a definite path and having to switch gears and possibly being off track.”

The longer a student waits to change majors, the more difficult it becomes to graduate in four years, Maguire said.

“If an upperclassman is changing, it’s possible they might have to take more than 16 hours in a semester or possibly have to go to summer school or take an extra semester,” he said. “It’s a risk you take when you change majors after the fall of your junior year.”

Maguire said it depends on each individual student’s circumstances whether changing majors will make a difference in the long run. According to a 2013 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only 27 percent of college graduates have jobs closely related to their majors. 

“I tell my students that the degree is not going to get you a job,” Maguire said. “It doesn’t matter as much what’s on that degree or what’s on your transcript as much as what marketable skills you have, what you can do, what experience 
you have.”

At the end of the day, Severin said students should “follow their hearts,” even if it means spending more time in school.

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Late major changes cause graduation delay