Changing semesters, changing majors


Hundreds of new Butler University students walk onto campus in August with their minds set on a major, a career and a life path. 

Some of them fall in love with their studies as classes start.

Others begin to question their choice as soon as midterms.

This is not unique to Butler students. Approximately 80 percent of American students change their major, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

Angela Lupton, assistant dean of the College of Education, said this statistic should not be viewed negatively. 

“What a celebration it is that students are coming as thinkers to college,” she said. “They are not afraid to reconsider what they thought. Changing a major can be reflective of growth.”

Sophomore Addie Barret falls into the majority when it comes to changing majors. 

She came to Butler as an elementary education major and realized she did not make the right choice.

“It was stressing me out to be in a major that didn’t make me happy,” Barret said. “I knew I needed to make a change.”

She changed to exploratory during her first semester. 

Jessica Brolsma, an academic advisor for exploratory students, said it takes a lot of bravery to admit you want something different.

“If something is telling them they should be in something different, it is good they are pursuing the possibility of changing their major,” she said. “To actually do it takes courage. More power to the people who switch.”

Barret continued on in school, talking to her advisor and friends about different majors and how they fit in with her interests.

This year, Barret declared a major in organizational communication and leadership.

“It was really nerve-wracking,” she said. “I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, so I just had to pick a major. That is why I chose communications, because it is so broad and you can get almost anywhere with it.”

Changing majors multiple times is normal. Students who change majors do so an average of three times, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

There are many different resources on campus for students to use if they want to change their major. 

Like many others, Barret used the exploratory department as a tool.

Brolsma said one of the exploratory department’s benefits is the availability of an advisor who is a generalist, rather than the reliance on someone with a depth of knowledge in one subject. 

Brolsma said choosing a major is not a lifelong commitment, just a choice for the next three of four years.

Roughly one-quarter of Americans have a job directly correlating to their college major, according to data from U.S. Census Bureau.

“I think that can ease the anxiety a little bit,” Brolsma said. “You are always able to change. You have control. I believe you can graduate from a liberal arts school like Butler and get a good job after graduation, no matter what your major is.”

Brolsma said changing and declaring majors occurs frequently around registration, because students must meet with their advisors. Most students declare or change a major during spring of freshman year or fall of sophomore year. 

Lupton said students are not always aware of their options when they come to college, which leads to early changes.

“When you come into an environment like this, there is a huge amount of opportunities,” she said. “This creates a climate that really allows students to critically assess what they actually want to do.”

Amy Peak, director of academic advising for the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said it is challenging for students who come from a small town, since they are not exposed to as many careers. 

“Students who spend more time in high school with adults in a profession that they want to go into and understand what it is about are more likely to choose a path and stay on that path,” she said.

Peak said students are more likely to change their minds if they do not know what the profession and its preparation are like. 

Gary Edgerton, dean of the College of Communication, said he expects students to find new interests and then go into different majors.

Edgerton said it is important to help students both coming in and leaving the college on an individual level.

“We really try and encourage to think through that,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with learning about new things, shifting interest and changing one’s mind. Philosophically, my goal is to find him or her the right major.” 

These changes can have students moving from college to college. 

Jennifer Poor, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said she sees exploratory students go to all different colleges, but LAS students who change majors tend to stay within LAS. 

However, most of the colleges do not track students who change their majors.

CCOM, LAS and COE do not track these numbers. 

The College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has about a 75 percent retention rate. The college must keep track of the outflow of students for accreditation purposes. 

It is harder to change majors into COPHS because it must be done before a student enters the professional phase during the third year of schooling.

Students also struggle emotionally with changing their major, Brolsma said. 

Brolsma said students face pressure from society.

“If you follow something for those reasons, you are going to have a mid-life crisis,” she said. “You will stop and think about how you hate your job. A quarter-life crisis is easier to deal with. It might be a little messy, but that is what college is for.”

Peak said some of the most challenging situations to deal with happens when parents do not want their student to change majors and pay tuition. 

“You want to make you parents proud and happy,” she said. “But you also want to do something that interest you and inspires you. The fear of letting your parents down is a struggle that these students face.” 

Lupton said people are scared of not following through.

“When you walk across that stage at graduation, you shouldn’t be wishing for a do-over,” she said. “You should be excited about your next step.”

Poor said students should not be afraid to jump into a new major. 

“There is nothing that is going to hold them in that new major if it is not for them,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of doing it. Don’t feel like there is a limit of the number of times you can do it.”