While I have always been interested in studying assistive technology, I have changed my major three times in college. Each time I have changed, I have asked myself questions about why I am considering changing my major, so that I could ensure that this would not be a decision that would leave me in a worse place academically, or lead me to not get the job that I want to have after graduating. Based on my experiences, here are ten questions to ask when changing your major, and why they are important.
When I was considering making the switch from information technology to data science, one of the things that helped me was thinking of the reasons I was frustrated as an IT major, and talking to another person who was in data science to see if I would have the same frustrations in my new program.
Some examples of items I wrote down on my frustration list include:
After talking about the items on my list, I was overjoyed to learn that I would never have to write a single line of Java again and that I could have more flexibility with scheduling my classes and learning about different topics. Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about catching a bus to the satellite campus early in the morning, and almost every class was available virtually. This already was starting to sound like a great fit!
Each time I have changed my major, all of the classes I had taken prior transferred to the new major and counted for different requirements. While I did have some classes transfer in as electives, I still needed the elective credits as part of my degree and was happy that with the exception of one class, everything would count towards my new major and I wouldn’t have to retake anything, though I did end up taking a second SQL programming class as part of my data science major requirements. My university has a helpful list for each major about what classes are required or can be substituted, and I went through this list prior to making any other decisions. It helps that all of my majors were similar topics- I started out in applied computer science, then switched to IT, and finally to data science, all of which are technology related majors.
All I had to do to change majors was fill out a form to send to the registrar and send an email to my previous advisor, as well as my new advisor. Other majors may require a separate interview or application process, but this was not the case for me. Funny enough, I filled out the form to change majors while at an internship interview, since I discovered that my job prospects would not be negatively affected if I switched majors. After submitting the form, I was able to register for classes almost immediately, though due to an error I was also dropped from my classes on the second day of the semester, something that was thankfully fixed quickly.
My university is awesome about being inclusive of students with disabilities in academic programs, and each time I have changed my major, I have been welcomed with open arms by my new department. I have a Disability Services file for visual impairment as well as a neurological condition, and as long as I’m transparent with my professors about my access needs, they are happy to give me whatever I need.
I was drawn to data science because I love seeing how technology can intersect with other fields of study, plus I enjoy using common data science programming languages such as Python, Matlab, R, and SQL. I received high grades in my IT classes that covered these languages, and I was confident that I would thrive in the data science program since I was excited about all of the courses. So I wasn’t interested in my new major because it was nothing like my old one or because it was easier, I just was looking for something that aligned with my interests better than IT did.
As a student with low vision, one of the other questions I researched was about accessibility settings in software that I would be using, and if it would be possible to have accessible materials in my new major. I’m one of the first students with a visual impairment in the data science major, however my professors have worked with me to ensure that information can be enlarged or read out loud, and that I can use different operating systems such as CentOS with assistive technology. If I come across something inaccessible, I know that my professors will help me find a way around it.
After college, I want to work in the tech industry and help people with disabilities access the world around them. Data science is a great degree to help me prepare for this job, and I have been able to connect with other blind and low vision data scientists at conferences and on social media. If I had changed my major to something that didn’t prepare me for working in the tech industry, I would have a lot more trouble reaching my goals. One of the things that helped me research this was looking at job postings and seeing what degrees were required for them, or how much schooling was needed.
Once upon a time, my friend learned that they would have to take calculus for their degree program, and switched majors because they were scared of calculus. However, they ended up having to take an equally difficult math course, and they were frustrated because they assumed their new major wouldn’t have so much math. There are hard classes in every major, and math is everywhere, so don’t switch majors thinking that the new classes will be easier. They will still be challenging, and calculus may show up when you least expect it!
Instead of switching your major entirely, sometimes it’s better to pursue a concentration or minor in your current major, and finding ways to incorporate your interests into other classes. While there is no option to study assistive technology as an undergraduate major, I still took lots of accessibility-related classes and integrated assistive technology concepts into research projects and other assignments whenever possible so I could develop my skills in the topic further. Another one of my friends chose to minor in a topic of interest so that they could prepare for a graduate degree in the field of their dreams.
While at first I was worried about changing my major, not a day goes by when I’m not thankful for making the switch. While I never made any drastic major changes or shifted my goal of taking over the world with assistive technology, changing my major helped me to develop my interests more and meet amazing professors that have changed my perspective on writing and coding- seriously, I thought I hated coding when I first started thinking about changing my major, and now I realized I love coding and hate Java. By knowing ten questions to ask when changing your major, you can be more successful in college and find a meaningful job after college that you’ll love even more!