Changing a college major is a common occurrence — in fact, almost one-third of first-time college students switch majors at least once within three years. But if a student is running in the wrong direction for too long, they may end up adding time and costs to their degree journey. On the other hand, there are risks in sticking to the original plan if a student isn’t finding success. Failing grades can lead to academic probation or eventually dismissal/withdrawal, and mental health may take a hit for students struggling with imposter syndrome, losing passion for school, and left without a clear path forward.
Landing on the right major is critical for students to reach their goals, while increasing college persistence and reducing debt. At the Dell Scholars program, this is a frequent topic for coaching and intervention, particularly when it comes to competitive programs or those requiring advanced degrees — nursing, law, and medicine often top the list. A student’s choice of major should align with their strengths, interests, and goals for the future, adding to their college experience rather than putting it in harm’s way.
Read on to learn our approach to guiding students in their choice of college major.
Know Your Students. When applying to a particular program, the ideal candidate will demonstrate alignment with their high school activities and academic performance. Advisors working with students early in the process can encourage them to consider their strengths and experience alongside career ambitions when picking a major. Does your aspiring pre-med student have holes in their transcript when it comes to science and math? They may lack the foundation to succeed in rigorous STEM courses — but they may also thrive on this path. The Dell Scholars advising team adds these students to a watch list to monitor their progress, just in case a pivot is needed.
Map the Journey. Choosing one major from another can be daunting as students navigate dozens, even hundreds of options. They may be unfamiliar with the career opportunities along a particular path, or the educational and certification requirements to get there. Some students can see themselves following in the footsteps of a family friend, through clinical rotations or a PhD program, while others have no such example to guide them. As advisors, we can help them see the possibilities, and also manage expectations around the time and financial investment to get there.
Monitor Progress. At the Dell Scholars program, formal progress updates are built into our renewal process. Each Dell Scholar completes an annual or semi-annual survey to validate that they are meeting renewal criteria and share details on major factors for college persistence. Academic progress, particularly during the first and second term, often tells a clear story around whether a student is positioned for success in their major — and if they aren’t, it’s time for us to discuss.
On the other hand, grades won’t always tell the full story; for example, a high-performing pre-nursing student may not get accepted into a competitive program. If a student is entering their third year without a declared major, their chances for on-time graduation are lower. Students are only eligible to receive Pell Grant funding for six years, after which time they’ll begin paying out of pocket – a significant obstacle to completing a degree for those with financial need. This is another opportunity for our advisors to get on the phone to help ensure these students stay on track.
Bring up Plan B. If a student’s progress isn’t going according to plan, guidance from a trusted advisor can help them reverse course. While some students have their heart set on a particular path, others will welcome the conversation with a sense of relief. At the Dell Scholars program, our questions guide the student through our thought process. Where did you struggle this semester, and why? Let’s look at your major requirements and progress to date — do you think it’s feasible for you to complete this program on time when you didn’t pass microeconomics last semester?
Next, we encourage students to schedule time with an academic advisor. Together, they can explore the other majors that will fit the student’s completed coursework without delaying graduation or taking on additional debt. Whether or not they are ready to make a change, this conversation can help students develop a backup plan so they understand the available options.
Regardless of a student’s major, our advisors encourage them to recognize that a college degree can open the door to a lifetime of opportunity. The Dell Scholars program is designed to support students to a bachelor’s degree within six years and with minimal debt, and the team remains committed to their success every step of the way. Whether students decide to stick to their original major, or consider changing plans, we will be there to help them stay on track all the way to graduation day.