Stories from our international boarding schools

When is it time to change your major?

In September 2018, I started studying a dual major in English Literature and Spanish at the University of Edinburgh. In the first few weeks of university, everyone is looking to make friends. There are lots of introductions and as a result I found myself constantly telling people the same information over and over again: my name, my nationality, whether or not I did a gap year, and of course, my major. It becomes a part of your identity as it is, after all, your purpose in university.

When you’re deciding on your major, there is a lot of talk about choosing “what’s right for you”, “what will give you a direct path to your career choice” and often “what will make the most money afterwards”. You will find that everyone chooses to prioritize differently in this respect, and motivations for being at university can vary. It is rarely possible to cover all three points, and you are very lucky if you can! So, when you start choosing your major, it is the beginning of some big questions: What do I want to do? What do I want to do with it? And why?

Deciding to change

When I chose to do Spanish and English Literature in Edinburgh, I mainly chose to do what I was good at. I didn’t have any concept in my mind of where that degree would take me, but I knew that I would at least enjoy it. My problem was that I arrived at university, and it turned out I was wrong. University and its courses are very different to high school. University can be impersonal and fast-paced, whereas something I always treasured about English Literature in school was personal class discussions, and slow in-depth analysis. What’s more, the course at Edinburgh was heavily based in the history of literature, and I am fond of contemporary texts. I got overwhelmed very quickly, and sadly I stopped enjoying my degree.

I knew going to Edinburgh that it would be possible to swap my major, because Scottish universities are similar to the US, where the first two years are meant for exploring options. This is not possible in the rest of the UK, where a swap in major means starting again. In this respect I was very lucky to attend a university where it is possible to change your major. It is very common to change your major in Scotland, and the majority of transfer applications are successful. Having said that, I never thought it would be me.

Taking the step

It takes courage to change the path you are on, and I never even considered it as a possibility for me until one day, I was away with my family, sitting in our hotel while it rained, talking to a close friend on the phone. He was considering changing his degree to Social Anthropology, and it struck me that all of the courses on offer sounded so interesting to me. I had even taken a Social Anthropology course in the previous semester and loved it. It is a diverse, research-based subject that explores relationships between people, the environment and more, all over the world. I started thinking about careers that Social Anthropology could lead to and after a bit of searching, I had found all kinds of options ranging from raw research to the management of NGOs. I realized that this felt like the right direction to go in, and I also realized there was nothing stopping me. So I sent in the application to change my major.

Admittedly, the process to change my major in Edinburgh took a while, especially because I was changing from the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, to the School of Social and Political Sciences, which is more complicated than a transfer within one school. I sent in my application in April, and I didn’t receive a result until August. I also had to take an extra course in my first semester of second year to catch up with everyone else. This meant I had to balance a much higher workload than usual, as I also chose to continue studying Spanish for my second year.

Changing major isn’t always easy, and you should expect to have to work a little harder. But it has changed everything for me. I am now thoroughly enjoying my degree courses, and have started to form a clearer pathway for myself post-graduation. Even though it was by no means easy, I don’t regret taking the jump, and I hope that if you find yourself in a similar position, that you may do the same.

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