Changing your mind, again

When I posted my piece in November about double majors, Allison--currently a student an Occidental College--commented about an important aspect I overlooked: at some universities, especially large ones, switching majors can be very difficult. High school students who really do plan on double majoring should make solid plans ahead of time to facilitate it. I agreed with her point...and then recruited her to tell me more about her own mind-changing switch to a double major. Here is what she wrote:

I want to preface my answers by saying that I did not make this decision because I was on the "wrong" path for me. It took coming to college and talking to many people at various levels of experience to guide me onto the best path. 

First, tell me about your original major and plan. What were your post-college dreams and plans? 

I came into college planning to major in psychology and hoping to conduct research. I loved my AP statistics class in high school, and my ideal future goal was to get to a position where I could conceive and carry out whatever psychological studies appealed (a tenured professor? I hadn't really thought through the logistics).

What was the catalyst that got you to change to your current double major? What are your current dreams and plans?

I actually was very lucky to end up in the right place at the right time for inspiration. I attended a career center networking event in which Oxy alumni returned to campus to chat with students. As a first year, I was hoping to gain career inspiration rather than job connections. My name tag said I was a psychology major, but I prefaced every conversation by saying that I was more interested in the analytical side of psychology than the clinical side. Most of the alumni were economics majors, and were very intrigued to meet a psych major who was interested in numbers. Many of them worked in market research and analysis, but they pointed out that they used statistics in every position they had held since graduating. Every single person I talked to gushed about a class called Econometrics, which focuses on using statistical analyses to test economic hypotheses. I left the event buzzing with excitement, feeling like that class would unlock my future. At that point, I thought I might try to major in psych or econ and minor in the other, but after looking over the requirements with advisors in both departments, I decided that I should just go all out! As of right now, I'm considering later pursuing a master's degree in Statistics. I think it would be really interesting to work in market research, but the more I talk to people about my majors, the more I learn about how I could use them, so I'm keeping an open mind! I have been involved with research in the psych department since my freshman year, and I'm hoping to continue that through my college career to gain experience and hopefully develop my own research project.

What hurdles and difficulties did you have making the switch? 

The hardest thing for me was just choosing how far to pursue each subject. I have always been interested in psychology, but there are a few categories of courses in the department that I am not interested in taking. Same with econ--as much as I love behavioral economics, I have no interest in macroeconomics and the world market. I also spent a long and scary hour looking at the requirements for both majors and trying to map out my remaining 2.5 years of college to fit everything I needed, and have room to study abroad. As difficult as that was, it allowed me to declare with confidence. Socially/emotionally, everyone I tell that I'm double majoring freaks out and asks "won't that be really hard??" I'm glad I did the work before declaring to feel confident that I could do it, because otherwise those comments might have impacted my decision.

What's the effect been so far? Are you glad you made the switch? Any advice for people considering similar switches?

First of all, I have an advisor from each department, which has been really helpful in terms of coordination, because neither was independently able to tell me what the other major would entail. Officially declaring in both departments has opened up many opportunities--I have priority registration for required classes, I have access to the psychology labs, and I have learned more about and was given the opportunity to work on research in the econ department as well. If anyone is interested in or trying to decide between two subjects, I would urge you to consider declaring in both (if logistically feasible), because it will give you a perspective that might make it easier for you to make a decision (and it's easier to drop one later than add one!)

Anything else you want to add?

I would just stress that I am at a small liberal arts school where you don't have to declare until the end of your sophomore year and it is very easy to switch majors, so I encourage everyone to do the research about majoring at your school if you have any doubts about your plan!

Thanks to Allison for sharing her story with me. If I can add one thing to emphasize something, I'd say that Statistics was the most practical, useful, empowering class I took in college. And I was a Literature major. If you haven't taken AP Stat in high school, please make room for it early in your college schedule.

Please share this post with someone who would like to read it. Feel free to comment below, like Allison did.

Allison, feeling enlightened. 

Allison, feeling enlightened.