Students go through ‘major’ changes

beth.kramer and beth.kramer

Devan Shah, now a senior, enrolled at NMU as a freshman knowing that he wanted to enter law enforcement. On first arrival, he thought he was ahead of the students without a chosen career field.

“I chose early, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I got to college,” Shah said.

After taking criminal justice classes for a year, Shah decided the best way to achieve his career goals was to make criminal justice his minor and pursue psychology.

“I wanted to go into criminal psychology, like profiling criminals. Psychology is what I need to do that, not just criminal justice,” he said.

Shah is among the 50 percent of NMU freshman who float from major to major; only 25 percent of all Northern students graduate in the major they start in, said James Gadzinski. Director of Academic Career Advisement Center (ACAC).

Nationwide, 60 percent of all students will change their major at least once before graduating, according to, a Web site that helps college students locate jobs and internships.

“There are hundreds of reasons students change their majors,” Gadzinski said.

Disliking a professor, disliking course work and altering career goals were the top three reasons students swapped majors at NMU he said.

However, Gadzinski believes it is necessary to question what really counts as a major change versus what he termed “an adjustment” – for example, changing from English to English writing.

Major changing is why students average five and a half years to complete a four-year degree, Gadzinski said, adding that the increase in major changing shouldn’t be a focal point for NMU students.

“What we need to look at is why we have freshman declaring majors,” Gadzinski said.

Some universities, such as Ohio State, do not allow freshman to declare a major. This policy has its merits, he said, because it allows students to consider their majors more carefully while letting students focus on their liberal studies.

On the other hand, NMU students like Shah, who know what they want to do as freshmen, can start early to either confirm or disaffirm their majors. Students entering college with a major selected can get to know their academic departments early on, which can yield “all kinds of good things,” according to Gadzinski.

As a compromise, Gadzinski recommends that students take mostly liberal studies their freshman year with a course or two from their major. He was reluctant to pass judgment on which course of action was best and said that the debate about freshmen declaring majors was not likely to be settled soon.

However, changing majors does not always tack on more semesters of course work. For Lauren Somalski, senior English and physical geography major, it shaved off about one year of education when she withdrew from the education program. She entered NMU thinking that she wanted to teach junior high but after getting “bumped around” in the education department, Somalski decided a change in both her major and career goals was in order. The education department is full of loopholes, such as having to take classes in a certain sequence, which her advisor failed to mention, she said.

Cutting education shifted her course work. When she was in the education program, she did more “busy work,” or lesson planning and hands-on work, she said. Her new dual major requires more critical analysis and lab work. Even her approach to a class changed when she changed her major.

“When I took a literature class, I didn’t look at it as how would I teach this. I looked at it more like how can I break this down,” Somalski said.

Gadzinski said that ACAC can help students like Somalski when they are in the midst of reconsidering career or coursework plans. Services include testing to determine which career matches up with a student’s interests. Once a selection is made, ACAC can advise students which classes to take.

“If we can get them early, we can work with them pretty well. If they come in as a junior saying ‘I need to graduate in two years,’ we don’t have a lot of time,” Gadzinski said.

Two ways to change your major at NMU:

– Go to the department in which you are seeking your major.

– Go to Academic Career and Advisement Center room 3302 C.B. Hedgecock.