Between a Rock and Hard Place: Changing Majors

Marvelina Barcelo is the co-director of the Transfer Center and a member of the iFALCON grant team.

During the fall university application season, I came across more students second-guessing the major they have come to identify.  Selecting “undeclared” is not an option for transfer students on the university application like it is for freshman applicants.  So questions such as “Do you think this major will limit my career goal?” or “I like a lot of subjects; which major do you think I should choose?” start to arise during counseling sessions.   Students turn to counselors with hopes of receiving the magical answer.  At times, I wish I could be that fortune teller with the crystal ball in front of me so that I may tell transferring students which major would best suit them.  But the bottom line is that many of us have gone through this very same process to get to our profession. For many, it may have taken 2 or more times changing majors before they found the best fit.

This process for students can be extremely heartfelt by counselors because we know that deciding on a major is a life-changing decision.  More often than not, students will have doubts about selecting a major for fear that it will result in limited career options, such as English majors will end up teaching, or Political Science majors will end up pursuing law school, or that you can only major in the sciences to enter pre-professional health careers. Some students have limited themselves in this process by not seeking out the resources available to them on campus. The Career Services Center, in my opinion, is a service that is underutilized by students when it comes to assisting them with choosing a major or simply learning about career options. At some point before you transfer, you should stop by the Career Center (next to the Assessment Center).

I was one of those students who was stuck between a rock and a hard place with my major. After completion of almost a hundred quarter units (66 semester units) at UCSB, I had come to the realization that Business Economics was not the right fit for me. I thought that I made the right choice picking Business because I excelled in math during high school. Little did I know the “other” courses I would be required to take for my major I would not care for too much.  It is so important to know the “other” courses you will be taking to complete your degree. Being the first to attend college in my family, I never knew that I could be proactive in researching my choice of major. I didn’t know I could preview the university’s general catalog to see the courses I would have to take to complete the degree. That would have saved me a lot of stress. All I knew was that an accountant would require strong math skills, and I had those skills. It made sense to me. Now, I am constantly using College Source ( to help students learn how to preview the coursework for their degree.

So you can see that there is a much larger picture when identifying a major or career that many students are oblivious to.   In my case, my involvement with a student organization on campus helped me to acquire a skill set that would allow me to transfer to many careers.  I learned to speak in front of a group, collaborate with business leaders in the community, and coordinate meetings, fundraisers, banquets and trips to out-of-state conferences, and work with various personalities within the club leadership team.  This skill set I use all the time in my role of a counselor when I facilitate workshops, coordinate transfer functions and collaborate with university representatives. In a way, this was like my internship. I was in a learning environment that helped me to see my strengths, likes and build new skill sets.  I enjoyed this more than I did my other 2 formal internships at a bank.

Having to change majors was very difficult for me and I can imagine that this is the same feeling many students may endure. I felt like I wasted my time taking my major courses and that I was incapable of mastering the Business Economics major. I was confusing my frustration with the high expectations I had set for myself, when instead, I simply needed to change my major to something that would better fit what I enjoyed the most, which was to work with people on a more personal level. I learned this about myself when I was active in my student club. Sociology became my new major in the middle of my junior year.

To a certain point, we are guided by the rule that we should choose a major based on a subject we do well in and like.   At least that is what I remembered from high school.  So I share with students that this frustration may arise because they are juggling an interest and a passion when it comes to choosing a major/career goal.  I ask students to be patient when they are walking through their web of interests trying to sort out the passion that lies within them.  It will eventually become transparent.  But before it becomes transparent like a crystal ball, it may take various exploratory courses or even a job/internship/volunteer activity to help with your decision making process. One thing that does lie in your hands is to be proactive in researching your interests and passions.  A first step can be visiting the Career Services Center or exploring majors on the ASSIST website (   On the ASSIST website, there are some degree descriptions that may be useful. Another resource is your instructors. I am sure you will find that many of your instructors changed majors probably 2 or more times while in college. Don’t be afraid to ask what their experience was like in college.  If you happen to see me around campus, please know that I am more than glad to share my experience at UCSB or talk to you about your major.

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8 Responses to Between a Rock and Hard Place: Changing Majors

  1. Emely Vasquez says:

    In my opinion this is a good way to make students decide wich ever career they like. This makes students connect with counselors and make them do the right choice. I am s student in Cerritos College that just graduated last year in 2010 and I had no idea what to do, I had two careers in mind but didnt know wich one to choose so with the counselors help I finally decided and now I am studying to become a Register Nurse. Many students think that the first semester is going to be hard and some try it but when the semester is over they fail some of the courses and they wind up not coming back. But in my opinion this makes realize to try harder to I did fail classes and was upset but now i am learning from my mistakes and know to try harder to be a succesful students I recommend to all students to talk to counselors and foloow there steps to become a better students and and reach there goals.

    Thank You To all the Counseling Staff

  2. vernasha poole says:

    i feel that students should pick a major in which they are good at,depending on what they wanna do in life,and if they could contiune to do it.

  3. vernasha poole says:

    i feeel tha students should pick there major in which they are good at in life,something they know they could contuine to do and be good at.

  4. Josie Rodriguez says:

    This article made me realize the importance of loving what you do. I want to be a Software Engineer but cannot stand hardware, it’s something I should think about. Thank you for sharing your experience and that “assist” tool.

    • Lynell Wiggins says:

      Hello Jose,

      You know, just because you don’t like the hardware aspect of Software Engineering doesn’t mean it might not be the career for you. You may not be passionate about all aspects of your future career, but you have to at least respect and admire the work that others do in that area. Remember, in that field you can’t have one without the other.

  5. joseluis gonzalez says:

    great article i also agree its rather overwhelming to choose a major and one must take time in deciding what major to choose.making sure the major and career one chooses is the right one, i sure don’t want to end up in a job i dislike.

  6. Christian Maldonado says:

    This article helped me out a lot. It made me realize the importance in choosing the right major you want to do and also do research on all the courses that are mandatory when choosing a major. It is important to know what courses come with your chosen major because you have to be atleast a little interested in them or else you will not succeed.

  7. Brittany Vargas says:

    This article was helpful, choosing a major can be an extra added pressure. I have friends who are juniors at a University’s and are still having trouble figuring out what exactly they want to major in. I highly recommend meeting with a counselor about any questions or concerns. I feel like you have to really enjoy and love what your majoring in, has to be a passion. If its just to get it out of the way then your not going to be the least bit motivated on accomplishing something.

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