Majors come and go for many ISU students

Tracy Deutmeyer

“So what’s your major this year?”

“I changed my major — again. I guess I’m on the five-year plan now.”

These words seem to be commonly spoken by undergraduate students who change their major a number of times and are forced to graduate at a later date because of different requirements in their new and previous areas of study.

“U.S. statistics show that the average student changes his or her major two and a half to three times during undergraduate study,” said Beverly Madden, director of lowa State University Career Planning and Placement Services.

Changing majors is common among undergraduate students across the nation, and ISU is no exception.

For example, since Aug. 1, about 125 students entered the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and 30 students left the college.

The College of Business reported that during the fall 1995 term, 107 students transferred out of the college, but the majority were pre-business students. During the spring 1995 term, 123 students left the college. In 1995, the college admitted 689 new students.

While many students are changing their majors, other students are facing difficulty declaring a major.

The Office of the Registrar reported that during the fall 1995 term, 760 students were undeclared in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and 315 students were undeclared in the College of Engineering. They also reported that there were no students undeclared in the College of Design.

Changing majors is common

School officials say the number of students who change their majors at ISU is high, and many students find that changing majors will often delay their graduation date because previously taken courses may not fulfill new requirements.

Jane Jacobson, an adviser in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the only courses everyone in the university must take are Library 160 and English 104 and 105.

“After that, everything you decide depends on your college,” she said.

Course requirements are different for every college at ISU. “For instance, if you are a journalism major, Biology 109 will count for a science credit. But if you’re a biology major, Biology 109 won’t cut it,” Jacobson said.

For example, the ISU Bulletin for the 1995-1997 General Catalog states that 12 humanities credits are required for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but only nine credits of humanities courses are required for the College of Business. The College of Business will accept certain women’s studies classes as humanities credits, but the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will not accept any of those courses for humanities credit.

Melissa Grim, a sophomore majoring in exercise science, changed her major three times in three semesters, changing colleges each time.

Grim said she was an animal science major her first semester at ISU. Grim took Biology 201, Animal Science 114 and Math 150. All 10 credits are now considered electives for her in the College of Education.

Mark Bruce, a junior, changed his major from electrical engineering to industrial technology just before the spring semester of his sophomore year. Changing from the College of Engineering to the College of Education, Bruce said he only “wasted” six credits by switching majors.

Changing colleges often delays a student’s graduation date, but when a student changes a major within the same college, he or she is often unaffected.

Randy Maro, a senior in agricultural engineering, changed his major from mechanical engineering to agricultural engineering at the end of his sophomore year.

“It was a pretty easy change. The requirements are almost the same in the two majors. In ag engineering, I’m classified under power machinery, which is a lot like mechanical engineering,” Maro said.

Graduation can be delayed

While changing majors can cause frustration by often delaying a student’s graduation date, students also become frustrated with the process of declaring a new major.

“It’s a pain changing majors, especially when you have to change colleges. You have to take your advising folder almost four different places. First you have to go to your old adviser, and you have to go to the Classification Office in your old college and to the office in your new college. Plus, you have to go meet your new adviser,” Grim said.

When students declare a new major, they often must change institutions at the same time.

Madden reported that 40 percent of all ISU students have also studied at other institutions.

Changing majors during undergraduate study may cause many inconveniences. So how can students make a career decision before entering college?

Ames High School provides an extensive program to prepare students for career making decisions.

Larry Zwagerman, a counselor at Ames High School, said students begin career preparation activities as early as the seventh grade in Ames Community Schools.

Zwagerman said that in seventh grade, students take an interest test and also spend a half of a day job shadowing, or visiting places they might like to work in the future.

During their sophomore year, students experience a career unit in their social studies class. Zwagerman said each student must interview someone in a career field they are interested in and then write a paper and give a speech about that interview.

Senior students and parents receive a “Planning Guide for Senior Students” at the beginning of the year. The booklet outlines information about admission applications, scholarships and financial aid and entrance tests for two-year and four-year institutions.

“Some students don’t take advantage of the services offered and some students need help badly but don’t seek it,” Zwagerman said. “Students need to be prepared to make a change at any point in time. They should worry about how to get information about the changes, rather than be worried about actually changing.”

Many students wish they would have prepared themselves better for a career decision.

Grim said, “I was so dead set on being a vet during high school, I didn’t think about the other options. I wish I would have thought things over.”

Bruce said he wishes he would have known more about industrial technology during high school.

Reasons for switching vary

If students experience so many inconveniences while changing majors, why do they do it?

“Students usually change their major for one of three reasons,” said Suzanne Zilber, director of the ISU Student Counseling Service Career Exploration Program. “They may find out the program is not what they expected, they are not doing as well academically in their program as they would have hoped or they may have learned the job market is not that good in their field.”

For example, Grim changed majors because the program was not what she expected. “I was first in the College of Agriculture with my animal science major. I didn’t like all the chemistry and science courses you had to take and on that level, I didn’t think I could get good enough grades to get into vet school,” she said.

Shane Williams, a junior in psychology, said he changed majors because of the job market. “I first was in biology and looked at the job market and saw that the competition was fierce. There was not as many jobs for the number of people in the field,” he said.

Bruce, who changed from electrical engineering to industrial technology, said he changed majors because he had difficulty with his math courses.

“I had some Polish professor for math that I couldn’t understand. But math sucks anywhere you go,” he said.

Changing majors may prove troublesome and may stereotype those students as unprepared, but some say that changing majors just shows that the student does more research.

Jacobson said that at age 18 “you don’t know all the opportunities that are out there. Getting exposed to different things is the big thing. That’s what college is all about.”

Madden said, “Students who change their majors should be applauded because many students get locked up in a major, too scared to change.”

Madden said courses previously taken by students which do not fulfill requirements for the student’s new major are not “wasted.”

“All those courses become a part of you. You never really know when you’re going to use it. Those courses just mean you have a strong concentration in another area,” she said.

Madden compared students changing their majors to adults changing their careers. “Statistics say that on average, adults change jobs 10 to 12 times during their life and change careers three to five times during their life,” Madden said.

“Isn’t that the same as adults changing their majors?”