How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents

Beyond Tuition Costs Podcast Episodes

The Cost of Changing Majors
Changing Majors

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Pete and Alex are joined by Jack Tharp, the IU Senior Director of Financial Literacy, to discuss what happens to you, financially, when you switch majors and the ramifications of picking a major in general.



Read the Show Notes
Why Should You Finish in Four?

No doubt you have discovered, the degree roadmap presented by your advisor is “Finish in 4.” The push to graduate in four years is pure economics. The added cost of one extra semester is a 10% premium or close to $10,000.

The Indiana Higher Education Commission now requires all four-year degrees (at public institutions) to be limited to 120 credit hours. And, state scholarship and grant programs are now tied to four-year completion [less than 30 hours per year results in reduced aid]. It’s all about the money—taxpayers whose taxes subsidize public higher education do not want to pay for college students on a five year plan.

Additionally (economics), time-to-completion is also the key variable in rising student debt. More time, more borrowing.

Is the five-year major an urban myth? According to the College Board, the average bachelor degree completion (nationally) is now 54 months. There are urban myths on how many times a student changes majors and little research.

Is It Possible To Change Your Major and Still Finish in Four?

An 80% (change) observation is derived from major selected on the admissions application compared to choice during the freshman year and that is not reliable data. The more realistic answer is that one half of college students will change their major once.

The Indiana University general education core is an accommodating curriculum model—allowing for student interests and career goals to change early in your program. If you wait until semester three or four to switch majors, crossing the stage (or standing) in four years is going to be tough.

Can you “Finish in 4?” Yes…if you have a plan and stick to it. Changing majors one time should not put you off course. Staying on course is a good metaphor; whether you have sailed or not you understand that a good wind is not always predictable. Similarly, “stuff happens” in a degree program you don’t expect. Always consult with your advisor when an issue arises.

When sailing, you have to steer the rudder and assure you don’t drift. “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” [Seneca]. Good boaters know weather conditions and can read the clouds. In your degree program, you too must constantly monitor changing conditions.

Off-Campus Experiences and Finishing in Four

Two events which require pre-planning and exceptional navigation are off-campus internships and study abroad programs. These semester-long programs are usually for credit, but not always 1-for-1. A semester in Spain is an extraordinary opportunity, but 15 hours of Spanish generally means you swap a minor in Spanish for the marketing minor you wanted.

Another factor to evaluate in assessing whether you can accommodate an off-campus experience is to figure out when and where you can complete the courses you missed on campus. For example the five, 300-level business courses you need may not be taught in the summer, if that is the only extra time you have for make-up. Summers are the best time to implement Plan B, e.g., fix problems and close gaps.

The Cost of Doubling Up on Majors

Okay, you are solid on your major, but a friend has suggested you will be more marketable with a double major. That kind of change can be very costly. Plus, your advisor will take a permanent vacation. Do your homework—which includes seeking counsel from Career Development.

Researchers at Vanderbilt found that the benefits depend on the majors. STEM graduates (science) can create an advantage; humanities don’t get an edge. The reality is, students opting for two majors tend to pick complementary subjects [ex. history + political science]; be careful on this, sometimes….. 1 + 1 = 1.

Do not be dissuaded if changing majors is best for you; just recognize there is generally some cost. Choosing a major is not choosing a career [know the difference].

Veteran advisors will tell you that they have succeeded when a student doesn’t need them anymore. You get to that level by studying program requirements, mapping those requirements over multiple semesters, and investigating early the cost of adding distinctive elements, referenced herein.