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Making that ‘major’ decision

Ninoshka Wilson enrolled at Georgia State as an exercise science major. But she intended on a career traveling around and working closely with professional sports leagues as a physical therapist. A few semesters into her classes, that idea wasn’t sparking the same joy in her it once had.

“I just lost my passion for physical therapy, and along the way, I wasn’t doing as good in my classes,” Wilson said. “So, I’m like, ‘Do I tackle this and go hard for it or do I change my major? Maybe it’s not something that I really want.’”

After taking a year away from school, Wilson re-discovered herself and her passions, realizing that she loves to create.

“I’m a creator, and I want to create and help people along the way,” she said.

Two years into her college career, Wilson decided to chase her new-found love for creating and switched her major from exercise science to social entrepreneurship.

Wilson is one of thousands of Georgia State students who have changed their major at least once during their time at the university.

“Seven years ago, the average Georgia State student was changing majors 2.6 times, with many of the changes after their first year of studies,” said Timothy Renick, senior vice president for Student Success at Georgia State. 

Approximately 60 percent of students who change their major stay within a general academic area, according to Renick, such as sophomore Briana Guzman, who switched from interdisciplinary studies to philosophy.

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“I thought interdisciplinary studies was too general,” Guzman said, who changed during her freshman year. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer when I was in interdisciplinary studies, and I just felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed to get out of it.”

The remaining 40 percent switch to an entirely different field of study, as Christian Marthone did.

Marthone, a junior history major, enrolled as a biology student, but was convinced to switch after one of his professors inspired him.

“Dr. Woodrum from the Decatur campus, his teaching and his passion behind what he was teaching [influenced me],” Marthone said. “I’m Haitian, so he was able to tell me stuff about the Haitian Rebellion and all this that caused me to go out and seek that information.”

To solidify his choice between the two majors, Mathrone decided to let his grades determine his future.

“It was kind of trivial,” he said. “It was like, ‘Whichever grade I get higher in this history class or microbiology, I’ll go with that.’ So, I got a higher grade in history, no surprise, but it was pretty close.”

The process of changing a major is relatively simple. Students must meet with an advisor and complete a Change of Major form.

Wilson visited her advisor, not knowing what she wanted to do, only knowing she did not want to do exercise science anymore.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Can you help me out?’ and he was like, ‘Well, describe yourself to me. Tell me about yourself,’” she said. “I like healthcare, I like business. I told him about myself and he said, ‘This is the major for you.’”

There is no limit on how many times a student can change their major, but there are a number of things to take into consideration when making the switch.

“They may not realize that there are hidden implications to the change, or to choosing one major over another,” Renick said.

Most notably, changing your major can add extra semesters to your college career, which could affect HOPE Scholarship or other financial aid funding, both of which have caps and limits to the number of credit hours they can apply to.

“I have to take a whole bunch of summer courses now,” said Armando Rodriguez. ”It’s always unfortunate, but that’s the case.”

Rodriquez, a junior who switched from exercise science to health and provisions, changed his major over the summer after concerns about whether his major would lead to a satisfying career.

“I was scared, to be honest, that I was going to pick the wrong career,” he said.

Renick said the majority of students do not end up graduating with the major they chose when they first enrolled.

Sager Siwakoti, a sophomore accounting major, for example, had no experience with accounting prior to coming to Georgia State.

“In high school, I took biology and it interested me, so I thought I might just go for bio,” Siwatoki said.

A freshman year course involving accounting inspired Siwakoti to change his degree path.

“I thought, ‘This is pretty cool. I’m going to change my major. This is what I want to do,’” he said.

As for how their new degree choice will affect their career aspirations, the students aren’t letting the uncertainty hold them back.

“With social entrepreneurship, I’m still trying to figure that out,” said Wilson, who, in the meantime, has already launched her own cosmetic brand.

Marthone, ironically, already has a job at Piedmont Henry Hospital using his old biology major.

“I was trying to be a general practitioner, so now I’m going to have to find a new job in my field, which is pretty funny,” he said. “But I’m planning on going into law in a little bit. So, I’m going to have to shape what I’m doing at the moment to match that.”

Both said they had the majority of their family and friends supporting them in their decision to change paths, though agree there is a stigma behind switching majors. 

Marthone has heard the argument before, that college students are young and unaware of what they want, so they should just stick with something they know will pay later on.

“I think it’s perpetuated from the older generation of students. ‘Well, I went in there and was science all the way through. I never thought about switching. I just got it done and got a job,’” he said. “But there’s more ambiguity to the system now, there’s more avenues you can take.”

Wilson felt some pushback from others on her decision as well.

“A handful of people were like, ‘All of your credits are gone? You’re starting over?’ But I feel like, it’s not more so about what’s on paper, it’s more about how I feel, and I feel way better about it,” she said.

Renick thinks the most important thing for a student to take into account when contemplating changing a major is their happiness.

“Students who major in a field because they believe it will make others happy or because they think they will earn more money are often disappointed,” he said. “The best advice is the simplest: do something that your love, something that you are passionate about.”

1208 total change of major forms submitted for August and September 2019