The Harbinger Online

Editorial: A Major Decision

There are many things to consider when picking a college: class quality, location, size, local atmosphere. Your prospective major, on the other hand, shouldn’t be one of them.

The biggest and most common mistake students make is choosing their university based off of the major they think they want. Even though seniors may think they know exactly what path they want to take, claims that “the average student who enters college with a declared major changes it three to five times. On the other hand, the average student who enters college with an undeclared major changes only one to two times.” All it takes is one moment to completely change their minds while in college.

Emily Lehning, an advisor in new student service at Kansas State University, thinks that, while there are many students who may have an idea of what they want to do, only one in five students actually sticks with it throughout their college career.

[media-credit name=”Art by Matti Crabtree” align=”alignright” width=”214″][/media-credit] “Choosing your major and that pathway for your future career when you’re 18 is a really big responsibility and major decision,” Lehning said. “So I think it’s natural that people have some misgivings and that, in the future, they’re going to encounter something, some new information, exposure to a class, sitting down with someone in a field that they had never heard of or considered, and that’s a way for them to find out that they have another option.”

If those students who change their majors have made it past their first few years studying their previous major, chances are they’ll have to stay at school for a longer time than expected. With tuition for in-state public colleges averaging $21,447 (, staying longer than their parents expect could begin to seriously drain their bank account.

To avoid students changing their majors and therefore staying at school for a few extra years, some colleges like the University of Wisconsin have began instituting an “‘excess credit’ surcharge to encourage students to move on with their lives. The surcharge, which kicks in at 30 credits above the 135 normally needed to graduate, doubles a student’s tuition.” (

Instead of running the risk of bankrupting their parents by extending their stay at school due to a major change, seniors should change their ways of college selection. Sure, having a general idea of your major is important when making that decision, but knowing that you won’t get stuck if you choose to change your major is even more important.

So, whenever you take a college visit, Lehning suggests considering multiple things before you make the big decision.

“Atmosphere, location, affordability—so the combination of available scholarships, expenses, and those kinds of things,” Lehning said. “[They should also think about] that sense of fit, that sense of place, if it feels like a place that you would go, that you would feel comfortable. And that’s really hard to describe to students as a measuring stick, whether the school is going to be a good fit for them other than saying you’ve just gotta make that visit, you’ve gotta talk to people and be in that environment and really get a sense of ‘is this a good place for me?’”

So the next time you visit a school, take a look at the students and think about whether you see yourself spending the next four years there. Make sure that the school offers programs in all areas of study that you’re interested in, not just one. Most importantly don’t obsess over the major you think you want.

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The Harbinger Online Staff

The Harbinger is the exclusive student-run news program for Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, KS. Staffed by approximately 60 dedicated super-students and overseen by adviser C. Dow Tate, the print and online publications have won numerous national awards. The Harbinger is published in print every two weeks and its website edition is updated daily. The website edition includes blogs, live video, photo galleries and stories not published in the ... Read Full »

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