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Changing Majors?

dyinbcmyambitiondyinbcmyambition Registered User Posts: 10 New Member
How difficult is it to change majors within a college freshman year at Harvard? How difficult is it to change majors between colleges? If anyone knows about the other ivies' policies that would be helpful too.

Replies to: Changing Majors?

  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,759 Senior Member
    You declare a concentration at the end of sophomore year.
  • dyinbcmyambitiondyinbcmyambition Registered User Posts: 10 New Member
    do you know how this compares to the other ivies?
  • gibbygibby Registered User Posts: 10,484 Senior Member
    edited February 2017
    @compmon is correct -- you declare a concentration during your sophomore year. However, most liberal arts colleges will not let you declare a major in something that you haven't already taken the intro course for. For example, you can't say "I want to be an anthropology concentrator" without having first taken the Intro to Anthropology course. That's true at Harvard and most liberal arts colleges -- ivy and non-ivies alike. Students have all their freshman year, and some or all of their sophomore year, to explore their options by taking intro courses in subjects that interest them. Hopefully, by the end of your sophomore year you've narrowed your choices down and can easily declare a concentration in something you love to do. At some colleges, it's possible to even change your major during your junior year, however doing so requires the student to take more than 4 courses a semester in order to graduate within the four-year time frame.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,941 Senior Member
    Sometimes I'm a little baffled by @gibby 's pronouncements.

    There are lots of colleges where taking more than four courses a semester is normal. They just don't happen to include Harvard. But there are lots of concentrations at Harvard that don't require a whole bunch of courses, either. Assuming that you are switching to something in which you have already taken a course or two, it is often possible to change majors during one's fifth semester and still to graduate in eight semesters. However, it's true that your options will not be unlimited in that situation, and the more bureaucratic the institution or department, the harder it is.

    Here are four examples:

    One of my best college friends picked up a second major in her fifth semester. She could easily have "changed" majors, but she chose to complete the first one as well, since she had almost finished it anyway, even though she could barely stand it. She had already taken a number of electives for which she could get credit in the new major, and it was a major that didn't have a clear progression of courses.

    Another friend took Geology for Poets in his fifth semester to satisfy a distributional requirement, and completely fell in love with Geology. He changed from being a History major to being a Geology major, and still graduated on time. He benefited from a lot of flexibility on the part of the Geology Department in making that happen -- he never actually took the required intro course -- helped in part by the fact that there were very, very few Geology majors, and they were happy to have another, enthusiastic one. He would not have had such cooperation had he fallen in love with Economics or Biology. I do think he had to overload his courses two semesters, including a bunch of basic science he had never taken. This was at another Ivy, not Harvard.

    A close friend of my children changed her major during her ninth (out of 12) quarter. She was a Classics major, but she wanted to do a senior thesis on medieval Latin poetry -- her main focus of interest since about 10th grade -- and it turned out the Classics department wouldn't accept that. Plus, she was going to have to take a bunch of Roman and Greek culture classes that she had put off because she wasn't really interested in them. She negotiated a change to Comparative Literature, got credit for most of what she had done in Classics, and tacked on some comparative element to her proposed senior thesis. Everything was fine. It helped that she had completed all of her Gen Ed requirements already, and had a bunch of literature electives. It helped that she was really an ace at medieval Latin poetry, and everyone -- even including the Classics people -- wanted to find a way for her to follow her scholarly interests. This was at an Ivy peer.

    My nephew was an Ecology major, or something like that, at a small, well-regarded LAC. His interests developed away from the science aspects of Ecology -- which was the emphasis of his department. As a junior, he proposed (and had accepted) a roll-your-own major in Philosophy of Agriculture, which incorporated some of what he had already done in Ecology. The college not only let him do that, it funded a summer research project, supported him in creating a Community Supported Agriculture program with the college as the anchor customer, and actually hired a professor from a nearby research university to supervise his thesis and independent research, since no one on the LAC's faculty had similar interests. Don't try this at a bureaucratic institution, kids.
  • gibbygibby Registered User Posts: 10,484 Senior Member
    edited February 2017
    @JHS, I believe you graduated from Yale, where taking more than four courses per semester is actually required in order to graduate. However, that is NOT the case at many universities, including Harvard, where the normal course load is 4 courses per semester or 32 credits over 4 years. All that said, there is debate among Harvard's faculty about the ridgety of Harvard's curriculum where some majors require 16 courses -- a full two years at 4 courses per semester -- for an honors degree. This from Harry Lewis, Harvard's current Dean of the CS Department and former Dean of Harvard College: http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/harrylewis/files/concentrations.pdf
    There is a good deal of current debate, among both faculty and students, about the rigidity of Harvard's curricular requirements. Many concentrations require 16 courses for an honors degree, though some, such as Mathematics and Philosophy, demand only 12 or 13, even for honors. Sixteen-course concentrations enable students to achieve some truly remarkable senior thesis projects, as sophisticated as many Masters' theses. But is widely argued (and personally, I believe the argument) that 16-course concentration, combined with 8 Core requirements and requirements for writing and foreign language courses, use up too much of the 32 courses needed for graduation, leaving students too few options for electives (either one-course excursions or a suite of 3 or 4 courses in a particular area) or for capitalizing on interests discovered only late in a student's college career. The faculty is committed to working towards a reduction in overall requirements, though how long and what form such a rollback might take cannot be predicted.

    And this from US News & Word Report: http://college.usatoday.com/2011/08/28/major-dilemma-the-truth-about-switching-majors/
    “The later a student makes a change, the more costly it is in tuition and time,” Sharon Wiatt Jones, a former career counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the co-author of The Parent’s Crash Course in Career Planning: Helping your College Student Succeed, said. “In fact, at some state universities they require that you get permission to stay more than four years and the cost per credit is higher.”

    Full disclosure: My son switched majors during his last semester of his sophomore year at Yale. However Yale's Administration would not allow him to switch into a major that he had not already taken the intro course for. And, Yale would not allow him to take the intro courses and the 200/300 level course concurrently. If my son had wanted to switch into major he had not taken the intro course of, Yale would have required him to graduate in 5 years instead of 4 years -- paying an additional years worth of tuition for switching majors. None of us in our family were baffled by those costs -- so it was NOT an option. for him.

    Bottom line: Students need to choose wisely or pay the penalty of additional tuition if they switch majors in their junior and senior years!
  • skieuropeskieurope Super Moderator Posts: 37,486 Super Moderator
    edited February 2017
    MODERATOR'S NOTE:
    To put the above the 2 comments more succinctly, I will go back and modify @gibby's post:

    At some colleges, it's possible to even change your major during your junior year, however doing so may require the student to take more than the typical courseload per semester in order to graduate within the four-year time frame.

    I'll assume there will not be further debate on this topic, especially since the OP has yet to be admitted.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,941 Senior Member
    Also, at many large public universities, it's hard enough in the most popular departments to meet all the requirements to graduate in four years if you start as a freshman. It's completely unlikely you could switch as a junior and finish on time, even if you were willing to take six classes a semester. But many public universities also have non-major graduation options, and one could switch fields if one were willing not to graduate with a formal major. Cats get skinned in different ways.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,759 Senior Member
    Harvard gives 4 credits per course, so students take 4 courses per semester. However, many schools give 3 credits per course, meaning 5 classes for f/t status- including our state university. In fact, at least in our experience, more give 3 credits than 4, making the attainment of 120 credits more onerous in some cases.

    As an older adult looking into returning to school, with different interest than I had at 18, I found it possible to start a new major with 90 credits, meaning, at the beginning of senior year- at the schools I looked at. It really does vary. These were not, of course, Ivies.

    Finally, the issue of credits per major (and gen eds) is an interesting one. My daughter chose Harvard because there were so many classes required in the major, but ended up discovering a new interest area and came to resent the gen eds' interference with a more natural evolution of her studies. I wish all schools would follow the Brown model of respecting students' own motivations and interests and giving them the freedom to follow them. End of tangent.
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