Major decisions can lead to major confusion

Sydney Mahl

When Rachel McCullough, communication sciences and disorders junior, applied to college, she decided to be an engineer. It only took a month and a half for that dream to change.

According to UT’s Undergraduate Studies page, 65 percent of UT students change their major at least once. That process can be easier for some students than others.

McCullough transferred from the Cockrell School of Engineering to the Moody College of Communication in the fall of her sophomore year, deciding to major in communication sciences and disorders. She then tried to internally transfer to communication studies but was denied.

“I realized how specialized communication sciences and disorders was, (the) only options after college are four years of grad school, or I could be someone’s assistant,” McCullough said. “It wasn’t worth it to go to grad school for something I didn’t like and I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself.”

McCullough was unable to internally transfer in Moody due to a rule in place to help ensure students graduate on track within four years. Her struggle to internally transfer is not uncommon at UT colleges.

Biomedical engineering junior Madeline Spencer always enjoyed engineering but didn’t understand the differences between each engineering major when applying to colleges. She was denied switching to chemical and architectural engineering once she decided not to major in biomedical engineering after experiencing her upper division classes sophomore year.

“It’s stupid that Cockrell doesn’t make it easier for people that want to switch,” Spencer said. ”This is probably my least favorite thing about UT.”

Molly Gully, the Director of the Vick Center for Strategic Advising and Career Counseling at UT, works with a team of academic advisors and career counselors in a bid to turn around thinking like Spencer’s for UT students who are considering switching their major.

Studies show that high school students are not choosing majors based on their interests, instead looking to please parents or find majors that guarantee more job security after college. This can add more stress on students over time if they realize they want to switch their major.

“The typical 18-year-old has not had enough life experience to make these kinds of decisions,” Gully said. “It is a lot of pressure.”

McCullough and Spencer agreed that choosing a major can be a lot of pressure on high school students, saying they didn’t feel informed enough to settle on a major so early. Gully said the Vick Center tries to lessen that stress by helping students balance their interests and future career goals to choose a major better suited to who they are.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to major in coming into college,” McCullough said. “I was originally going to apply as an education major and my parents convinced me to go engineering. I just didn’t know what to do.”

Government junior Ryan Mathis had a different experience than McCullough and Spencer. He was convinced his choice to major in finance was the right one, but after he failed to become interested in his business courses, decided to switch into government. His switch was easy, taking “one day” due to the lighter restrictions on transferring into the College of Liberal Arts, such as no minimum GPA.

“When you’re coming from high school, you think you know what you want to do,” Mathis said. “I think it takes getting into a college and actually experiencing your major to allow you to fully know if you’re going to like it."

Gully and Mathis both said students should take time to learn their interests and pick a major based on who they are and what they are passionate about. Gully said she tries to help students understand the wide range of options available based on their major.

“Go through the process of learning who you are,” Gully said. “We can help students recognize that their major doesn’t always equal their career.”