College students tend to change majors when they find the one they really love

EL PASO — Choosing a college major is a hard decision for students to make because it can determine the student’s career future along with income level and having to pick a different one later piles on more stress.

“My dad wanted me to become an English teacher because he loves literature and reading books,” said Victor Chavez, a 29 year-old graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Chavez gave into his father’s pressure and started his UTEP college education as an English major in 2004, but a year later he began to question his career path and switched to math after finding his true passion.

“I’d love teaching don’t get me wrong, but I really wanted to teach something that I was more passionate about–math,” Chavez said.

College students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (Yuritzy Ramos/Borderzine.com)

College students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (Yuritzy Ramos/Borderzine.com)

About 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.

According to the UTEP Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research and Planning (CIERP), between the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters, 14.4 percent of UTEP undergraduate students changed majors. A change of major can occur within departments, from business marketing to business management, or within the same college, from mechanical to civil engineering, and sometimes across colleges, for example, from education to health sciences according to CIERP.

Some students start college with a major their parents or relatives picked for them, not realizing that if they end up changing majors too far into their education it will take them longer to graduate. In most cases these students struggle to make a decision because they don’t know how to confront their loved ones about a career change.

“I talked to my father, a man who I admire and respect,” Chavez said.  “It was hard to confront him and tell him about changing majors since he was paying for school. I knew he wasn’t going to be proud of me anymore.”

Chavez graduated in May 2012 with a degree in math education, five years later than anticipated and after taking a two-year hiatus from school to earn money to pay for his own education. He says his decision to change majors wasn’t based on the job market, but on where he thinks he will have more opportunity to teach others what he loves.

“Even though my parent’s didn’t agree at the beginning and it took me a long time to graduate, I did. Today I’m a substitute math teacher and they do feel proud of me,” said Chavez, with a big smile.

Some of these students might have had a lack of academic advice or career counseling. According to CIERP, about 21.1 percent of freshmen students at UTEP changed their majors, 15.4 percent sophomores, 15.0 percent juniors and 8.1 percent seniors.

UTEP provides academic counseling resources and advice for undecided students to find out about some of their career choices. The University Counseling Center provides students with career counseling for their career goals.

“The counseling center is 100 percent confidential for the good of the students,” said Dr. Sherri I. Terrell, the Director of University Counseling Center. “We help students who are stressed out, either because of the pressure of their parents or lack of communication with them,” she said. Terrell said Career Counseling Services for the most part are free of charge to all enrolled UTEP students.

Virginia Segovia, 45, said that when she decided to return to school in 2004 after a 15 years hiatus she didn’t know that UTEP provided students with career counseling.

“I started as a Spanish teacher,” Segovia said. “I wanted to work with my first language and with kindergarten children since I love to be around little kids.” After taking classes in Spanish and education, she realized she would graduate more quickly and save money if she switched to multidisciplinary studies. She graduated in 2012, after taking classes part time for eight years. “ I already wanted to graduate; at my age it wasn’t the right time to be playing games,” she said.

“When I started school, I was already a grown-up student and I was embarrassed with all the young people around me. I wouldn’t talk to anybody or ask for advice,” Segovia said.

The idea of changing majors can be daunting, counselors said. A student who is contemplating a change of major should meet with a college advisor to approve the change. “The advisor gives you a petition for the change of major and the dean of each college for each major has to approve and sign,” says Fernanda Astiazaran, a 22-year-old, who switched from international business to an organizational communication major in 2012.

Astiazaran said when she began at UTEP her goal was to work in hotel management. “After some time I realized that UTEP didn’t offer hotel management, plus I didn’t like the accounting (courses) and some of the business classes at all,” she said.

She said she now feels pressure from her parents because they believe that the communication field isn’t in demand and it will be harder for her to find a job.

“There were some money issues as well,” said Astiazaran who expects to graduate in December of 2014, instead of this May as she had originally intended.

Like Astiarzaran, some students decide to change majors because they are struggling in basic courses for their intended major.

Chavez said that he is confident in his decision to trade change from learning to teach English to teaching Math. “To love what you do in your profession and in everyday life is really satisfying,” Chavez said. “To make your students love and enjoy what you love is a challenge, but I’m ready to take the challenge.”

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12 Comments

  • Sherry says:

    That 80% figure from the NCES really makes you stop and think about what is really influencing you in your choice of major. You want to be respectful of your parents’ aspirations for you (especially if they are picking up part of the tab), but we are talking about your working life!

  • Alysha Kissinger says:

    I’m trying to find where you go the statistic of 80% changed their major, could you help me out?

  • Jorge says:

    I agree that parents have some influence on what they want you to do, but this is going to be your career. Do you really want a lifetime of hating your job because you don’t want to disappoint your parents? It’s gonna be your life after you move out of your parents house. Don’t start it out in the wrong direction.

  • kayed says:

    Lots of parents do have a major influence on their children’s decisions,but i also think its great that the parents care and have interest in their young. Parents want the best for their children, and what they become in their future. However if the student does not know what to major in I think he or she should give thanks to their parents for the thought for their children’s education, and lives.

  • Michael Munoz says:

    when you are picking a career for yourself it should ideally be one that you love going too not one that you wake up in the morning and dread having to go too, the next thing a good job should offer is a chance for you to have different opportunities for you, the last thing a career should offer is stability even in a bad economy, you should pick something that will always be a necessity for people.

  • Vanessa Robledo says:

    Most students in college today are majorly influenced by their parents in choosing their major. But what a lot of them don’t realize is that, what their parents think is best for them really isn’t. 80% of students changing their major is a lot, if most students would research and take the time to learn what it is that they are good at, and what they enjoy, that percentage would go down majorly, and most likely they would be able to graduate in the time that they are expecting. Another thing students should try is enrolling but only go for your basics at least get those out of the way and if by the time you have finished those and still are unsure then speak to the counselor and see if he or she could help you in deciding on what you want to do. But the other problem is that, none of them have any life experience. No one wants to disappoint their parents but in reality your parents will be happy that you are learning to make your own choices. As of right now I am the oldest one in most of my classes and I don’t have any doubts that I will probably look into changing my major, but that is not because I am not sure if it is what I want to do, but because it may not be the right area of where I want my career to go. But, because I have had life experience and I have done many different jobs I know what career field I want to be in. I did upset my parents by making the choice of not going to college right out of high school. But eventually they got over it and realized what I was doing was much more honorable, and that I could always go to college later, and only after I had figured out what it was that I really wanted to major in. Now it’s not a question of what I want to do it’s just a question of how many things I want to do. I am only going for one degree right now but I will be going for another one later, this is just happens to be the most important one to me in order to be successful in the rest. The bottom line is that everyone should take the time to really think about your career because if you’re not happy with your career it will only frustrate you for the rest of your life and then you will have to do it all over again.

  • Mike says:

    Could you please provide the link or survey name where you found the statistics reported by the National Center for Education Statistics that 80% of college students change their major at least once? I am interested in this data and cannot find the survey, study, or article. Any help would be much appreciated!

  • Adam Fullerton says:

    I was wondering if you could provide a link to the statistic that 80% of students change their major. This could be very useful to me but I have not been able to locate it. Thanks!

  • Ashlee says:

    I am also looking for the 80% statistic. Please help!

  • Emily says:

    Also looking for that statistic and can’t find it anywhere! HELP!

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