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Saturday, September 18, 2021

A major switch-a-roo

KATE SNOWDON / AGGIE
KATE SNOWDON / AGGIE

UC Davis advisors reflect on process of switching undergraduate majors

Though many students enter college with the next 10 years of their lives already scheduled in their life planners, some students switch majors late in their college years.

“Some students get here and realize maybe that’s not the right major for them, or once they learn more about it they feel it’s not a good fit,” said Alin Wakefield, an advisor in the College of Engineering Dean’s Office. “They might explore other majors or other interests or fall back on a different interest that they have and pursue a different path.”

Switching majors is common with many undergraduate students who are still deciding where they want to focus their studies. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 80 percent of students change their major after entering college as undergraduates.

“Over half of students change their major within the first two years,” said Dr. Brett McFarlane, director of academic advising in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. “Advisors expect that; that’s […] a normal part of the process.”

So what makes students switch their majors, and how do they decide what to switch to? McFarlane believes that the reasons behind these decisions vary from student to student.

“[For] a lot of students it’s really just a matter of maybe they thought [their original major] was something they would be interested in,” McFarlane said. “After taking the class, they […] realize that’s not what was fueling them.”

Oftentimes, students find their major path through the many introductory classes that UC Davis offers.

“I took NPB 10, which was a great class,” said fourth-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major Kelly O’Callaghan. “That kind of solidified that that was the major that I wanted to switch to.”

Taking classes is not the only thing that seems to change students’. minds. Future career plans or changes in academic interests can also serve as factors in the decision.

“Really what it comes down to from an advising perspective is helping students clarify what their goals are and [narrowing down] the process of how to achieve those goals,” said Joseph Lee, academic counselor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean’s Office.

Students often make switches based on their career goals as they develop throughout their college experience.

“I realized that American studies was more of an interest than it was something I wanted to pursue as a career,” O’Callaghan said. “I went to the UC Davis website and literally copied down all of the majors and then crossed off the ones that didn’t interest me, and then I […] narrowed it down [from there].”

According to McFarlane, most switches out occur in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields due to the “technical nature of […] those [majors].”

Though many students switch from one major to a different one within the same college, many also end up switching to another college altogether.

“I’ve seen students [in engineering] change to biology majors, music, managerial economics [and] physics. I knew somebody who switched from engineering to viticulture and enology,” Wakefield said. “It’s across the board where students change their major to.”

Many students switch into the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences because of UC Davis’ strong agricultural reputation.

“The two largest majors in the College of [Agricultural and Environmental Sciences] would be managerial economics and animal science,” Lee said. “Those tend to be the common ones that we see students transferring into on a more regular basis.”

UC Davis academic advisors and counselors tend to steer students toward majors based on their strengths and weaknesses.

“Often times with some students we see […] more struggles in the sciences, but still [strong performance] in mathematics,” Lee said. “[Because of this,] they may […] transition into managerial economics.”

The advising staff at UC Davis encourages students to be proactive in their search for the right major.

“It’s a process […] that really involves students looking within [themselves] and deciding ‘what do I want, what are my goals, what are my ambitions career-wise, what do I want to do and is there a major or program here that can help me get there,’” Wakefield said. “A lot of students also talk to family members, friends, hopefully some advisors as well, about what the new major might be.”

Lee agrees that students should use their long-term goals as a determining factor in choosing or switching to a major.

“It’s about taking a step back,” Lee said. “Let’s take a look at what your interests are, and why you might have those interests. From there it’s about […] clarifying what […] you want to get out of your time here at Davis and how we can use some of these [major] pathways […] to get to some of those end goals.”

UC Davis offers multiple resources on campus to aid those students who plan to declare or switch their major, including the student counseling center in North Hall, which offers student assessments and a career exploration group.

“Use the resources that are here,” Wakefield said. “Not only the advisors in the departments but also the Internship and Career Center can really be helpful in terms of after college. Ask professors — [you] might learn something that [you] didn’t know.”

According to Lee, students should remember the bigger picture when deciding a major.

“I think that the way the system is designed is really to try and help students find majors […] but that’s not all that we’re here to do,” Lee said. “The way that I see education, and especially time at UC Davis, is preparing students for what comes next. We find Davis to be a great university, and opportunities are all over the place, but ultimately we want students to […] put into practice what they’ve learned after they graduate.”

The advising staff works as both a resource and a place of encouragement for students at UC Davis.

“We present the curriculum as very linear […] but real life isn’t like that,” McFarlane said. “I think the major selection process is more […] aligned with real life. The whole process is really absolutely perfectly normal.”

Written by: Allyson Tsuji – features@theaggie.org

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