Though Cal Poly’s change of major process has changed several times since its inception to make it easier on students, those who have not gone through the process still perceive it to be very difficult.
Changes have been made to the process to help ensure students are given the opportunity to find the right major for them.
“We don’t want students feeling like they’re stuck in a major, which is kind of different from when I started here in 1996,” mechanical engineering chair Jim Widmann said. “When I started in 1996, it was kind of discouraged to switch majors.”
In 2016 – the last time the change of major process was updated – students that had gone through the process were surveyed about their experience. Results showed that figuring out how to start the process was the most difficult part.
Using student feedback, academic advising developed change of major workshops, online inquiry forms that allow students to check if they are eligible to change into their intended major and pages on most departments’ websites that show the change of major criteria, Assistant Vice Provost for University Advising Beth Miller wrote.
The criteria regarding a student’s eligibility to change majors differs in each department. For some majors, like those in the College of Engineering, admissions criteria are taken into consideration when determining a student’s eligibility to switch into a specific major.
Students hoping to change into a major in the college of engineering would have had to have been eligible for admission to their intended major when they first applied to Cal Poly in order to go through the process.
According to Widmann, students trying to switch to computer science that were not already admitted to computer engineering, software engineering or general engineering, can not switch into that major. This is due to the fact that computer science is a particularly impacted major, meaning they receive way more applications for the major than they can accommodate.
Because it is not possible to switch into certain majors, many students get the impression that the change of major process as a whole is impossible, Widmann said.
Deep-rooted rumors of the process being difficult and occasionally impossible in the past continue to spread and influence the overall reputation of the process.
“I’ll meet with a prospective student and their parents who went to Cal Poly told them ‘oh, you can’t switch majors,’” Widmann said. “Like, don’t tell your child that, that’s not true.”
According to psychology and child development chair Jennifer Jipson, this reputation might cause some students to feel trapped in a field of study that does not satisfy them.
Political science freshman Sean McCarthy, who has initiated the process of switching into environmental engineering, explained that despite everyone telling him the process would be really hard, he has found it relatively easy so far.
Cal Poly differs from a lot of other universities in its policy that requires all students to declare a major on their application to the school. University of California (UC) schools and most other California State Universities (CSU) allow students to choose undeclared on their application.
Being a developmental psychologist, Jipson said that she recognizes the importance of the change of major process being accessible to students because of this requirement.
“I understand how inappropriate it is that Cal Poly asks people to apply to a major as a first year student before they, you know, really have a great sense of self and before they undergo that kind of identity exploration process,” Jipson said.
McCarthy applied to college with an interest in political science, but once he came to Cal Poly and learned more about its engineering department and opportunities, he realized he would rather pursue a degree in engineering instead.
Because students often come to college and find new interests and opportunities, changing majors has become relatively common. According to university spokesperson Keegan Koberl, 1,136 students changed their majors in the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
The majors that students changed into the most were business administration, mechanical engineering, computer science, psychology, biological sciences, construction management and environmental management and protection.
Each major differs in its requirements for both GPA and course requirements. To change into psychology, for example, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA in all psychology classes to remain eligible for the change.
While each major has a specified curriculum, there are exceptions in some cases for students who are going through the change of major process.
Students interested in changing their major must do so as soon as possible. For most majors, it is required that they will be able to finish the required coursework for the new major in a timely manner. Some majors will not even consider accommodating an upper-division change of major.
In accordance with the official change of major policy, the process itself is not to take more than two quarters to complete after a student is in the Individual Change of Major Agreement (ICMA). A student may be able to finish the process in one quarter or could even be approved immediately depending on their credentials.
Career services and academic advising help ensure that a student meets the necessary criteria to change their major and also ensure that a student is changing their major to one that will further their specific career goals.
“The change of major is an important thing,” Jipson said. “It’s important for us because we care about students, and it’s also important because we know, developmentally, that when you’re 17 or 18, you don’t yet quite know where your heart is.”