ESS 132: Feeling Like You’re in the Wrong Major?
The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer podcast has advice for freshmen, sophomores and incoming freshmen if they feel their current major is not the right fit. We cover what are the options, what is the process, who can students meet with to get more details and where can you find the information online.
Want to jump to the part of the podcast that is talking about your student status? Check out the times below:
- 0:57 – Newly Admitted Freshmen: admitted to College of Engineering
- 4:42 – Newly Admitted Freshmen – admitted to a different college at UC Berkeley
- 5:59 – Student in a college at UC Berkeley other than College of Engineering
- 7:49 – Current College of Engineering Students
- ESS Peer Adviser Hours: Monday – Thursday, 9am-5pm; Friday, 10am-5pm
- Change of College Website: coesandbox.berkeley.edu/changeofcollege
- Make an appointment with your ESS Adviser: coesandbox.berkeley.edu/ess-advising
LAURA VOGT: Hi my name is Laura Vogt and I’m the communications and events manager for engineering student services in the College of Engineering. Welcome back for another week of the Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley engineer. This week I’m excited we have Sharon Mueller and she’s going to go over what to do when you’re in the wrong major. As you’re doing your studies, you figured out that it’s not quite what you want to do, and we’re going to look at it in four different student types.
SHARON MUELLER: Yes. Yeah I think that’s probably the best way to approach it because a students approach is going to be very different based upon their current status.
LV: Sharon, I know you’ve been on the podcast before so let’s remind everyone who you are and what you do for us.
SM: I am Sharon Mueller and I’m director of advising and policy in engineering student services in the College of Engineering.
LV: Let’s start with, who’s going to be our first group that we want to look at.
SM: I was thinking since most freshmen will be finding out their admission at the end of this month, that it might be good to start with newly admitted admitted freshmen. You know what to do if you have applied to a major, and have been admitted to a major, and now realize that’s not really the major you want to pursue, which is understandable students applied in November. And here we are a few months later, and perhaps their interests changed, so I would say for newly admitted freshmen… we actually tell students if your interests have changed pretty drastically, and you no longer want to pursue that major to which you were admitted, it might be better for you actually to go to a different school, quite frankly, because one big reason for that is that students do come into engineering declared, except for, we do have some students who were admitted to the college of engineering as engineering undeclared students. I’m not really referring to them, because they have the option of every major available to them as long as they get a 2.0 their first semester. So, this is really, I’m more talking about students who have been admitted to mechanical engineering, and now decide they want to do electrical engineering and computer sciences. So within the College of Engineering, there certainly is a mechanism for students to change major. But it can be challenging, and it’s not necessarily straightforward, and it’s certainly not guaranteed. So for every major there are requirements, there are minimum requirements for changing into that major. So it’s not something anybody could do their first semester. And for all majors that we need to see at least one semester’s grades, and for some majors, they have to be here for two semesters. So, and then for some majors, there are also course requirements, and that can be challenging because students have to maintain academic progress for their current major, but (they need to take) these other courses so that they’re eligible for the other major.
LV: You could be adding to a pretty heavy course load. I mean, we already require a lot in our courses anyway.
SM: True. Exactly. So yes you have to be continuing to make progress on the major you were admitted to, while also, if you want to switch, you know, trying to take classes that make you eligible to switch. And so students can find that very challenging, so much so that it might mean their GPA suffers, and then it becomes harder, because then there’s also a GPA requirement. So because when you try to be really transparent, we do tell students this that if they inquire about changing majors before they’ve committed to Berkeley, we generally say you might want to look at another school where that path is guaranteed and straightforward, because it’s not here, unfortunately. We admit to every major to capacity. And that’s why it can be challenging to change majors. And having said that, I should point out that transfer students are not allowed to change majors, so transfer students certainly shouldn’t commit to Berkeley engineering if they’ve decided that’s not the major they want to pursue.
LV: Just not an option at all.
SM: True. Yes that’s correct. Now students have been admitted to another college say Letters and Sciences, and decide they want to switch into the College of Engineering. There are some important things to know about that as well. Again we would say you might want to pursue a school where that’s a guaranteed path for you, because that is very competitive process to change into the College of Engineering, and we have a major that’s completely closed off, electrical engineering and computer sciences, students can’t change into it all. And once they if they’ve been admitted to L&S, and are able to successfully switch to the College of Engineering after a year, they can’t change majors once they’re here. So there’s certainly some pretty some pretty big roadblocks for those students as well. So for newly admitted students, we really do try to be transparent. If you’re absolutely sure, that’s not the major you want to pursue, that you’re no longer interested in the major you were admitted to maybe look at some other options for that.
LV: Okay. And so that was specifically for our admitted freshmen that are not here yet.
SM: Yeah. So now we can switch to talking about current Berkeley students who are outside of the College of Engineering, I already touched on this, but we have a really extensive Website that explains Change of College, when you want to change from, say, the College of Natural Resources to the College of Engineering. And there are some very strict deadlines. There are some requirements students need to fulfill their minimum GPA requirements, and it is a very competitive process. So students certainly want to check out that website.
LV: Yes definitely, coesandbox.berkeley.edu/changeofcollege I’ll put a link on our website as well.
SM: OK good. Yeah that’s pretty straightforward. It’s a lot of information, a lot of details. There’s also an email address on there that you can e-mail if there is confusion about some of the requirements, students seem to be really mindful that, twice a year we will review applications, and the absolute latest time students can apply to change into the College of Engineering is in March actually, March 1st of their sophomore year. So the deadline just passed for this year. And again, grades and academic progress are really important and students need to be able to finish within eight semesters at Berkeley.
LV: Semester you’ve already completed don’t count towards a total of eight?
SM: They do. Yes, they already count towards the eight. So right. If students have some courses to make up, they might be playing catch up for a little while. OK. So that’s for students who are in college outside of engineering. For current college of engineering students, I would say the very first thing they want to do, if they’re realizing that they’re not happy with their choice of major. And you know that happens, certainly, as a high school student. It may be difficult to know what is mechanical engineering? Or what is material science and engineering?
LV: Or as you’re going through the classes, you might realize you’re not doing what you thought you were going to do.
SM: Exactly yeah. And maybe you take a class in another department, you know, maybe you take a nuclear engineering class and think, oh this is what I want to do. So I would say the very first step, if that’s even part of your thought process, is to meet with your ESS adviser, and just to remind students that the way to do that is to go to our website coesandbox.berkeley.edu/ess-advising and just click on the blue box that says make an advising appointment, and that will give you all the available times for your ESS adviser. So I would say you want to do that as soon as you have that realization. Again, there are deadlines even for changing major within engineering, so students have to change major by the end of sophomore year. And so that’s why it’s important to get this process started as soon as possible so that you know what are the requirements for changing into mechanical or what are the requirements for changing into electrical engineering and computer sciences. So your ESS advisor can share all of that information with you, and can help you pave a path that will hopefully give you the option to change your major. So meet with your ESS adviser, as soon as you have an inkling. Now let’s say, you kind of don’t know what you want to do, but you’re like, well I know it’s not this, then I would say certainly your ESS advisor is a good place to start, but also I would start talking to our peer advisers. I would come in and chat with them. They’re here every day when the office is open, and just kind of talk to them about the different majors. There’s also, we do a little major fair. I think it’s in October. Usually in the fall semester, and that’s when we have all the majors represented with juniors and seniors from each major. And so they can certainly talk to you about the classes, and what do you do with a major in civil engineering. So that’s also a good resource. And certainly the faculty are a good resource. So if you’re just not sure, and you just are sure that you don’t want to continue in the major you’re in, then we have a lot of different people you can talk to help you clarify what major might align more with your goals. And then again your ESS advisers. Always a good place to start.
LV: Fantastic. And while you’re pursuing to try to change major and you’re still having to take the courses towards the one that you’re in right
SM: Exactly. And that can be challenging, because students who start in Berkeley Engineering also only have eight semesters. So if you’re sort of been on the path of one major for a year, you may have lost ground with another major, and you have to continue to make progress in your current major. Just in case you’re not able to switch to that other major. So that’s a college policy. So for those majors, for instance EECS has course requirements. It can be really challenging to continue to make progress with your current major, while also trying to fulfill the requirements to switch to that major. And that’s where your ESS advisor is going to be really important, because there might be certain courses you can take that could count for both. And so that you’re not loading yourself up with four technicals every semester just to get yourself to be eligible. So ESS adviser is always a good place to start because you can explore different options you can explore different majors, and you can kind of get a realistic trajectory of where you could be headed.
LV: Basically at the end of all this, there is ways to change majors, if you’re in the College of Engineering, we can work with you on that. If you’re not in the College of Engineering, it’s going to be a little more difficult.
SM: Yeah definitely. It’s a more competitive process for sure. And it’s a pretty extensive process which is why we have an entire website dedicated to it. And there are really specific timelines and deadlines.
LV: And I don’t know if we mentioned that the peer advisers are actually really trained in change of college for the campus, so you can always come in and talk to them a little bit more about it, if you wanted a one on one meeting with someone.
SM: That’s right because the ESS advisers do not meet with students outside of engineering. They all have a very full caseload of students within engineering. So the advisers are really well-trained in the change of college process, and they can help students kind of determine whether or not that might be a viable option for them.
LV: Fantastic is there anything else that we missed, that you might want to add.
SM: I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered it all. I would say certainly for newly admitted students, if they have any questions about this process, we’re all going to be here at Cal Day, and we’re going to have an engineering student services table, and all of the advisers will be there, the peer advisers will be there, will probably have some faculty there. So that might be a really good place to start talking about these kinds of questions. If you realize you may not want to pursue the major to which you were admitted
LV: And I know it seems a little tougher to say, go somewhere else, but we just really want to manage your expectations and be realistic about what is going to happen.
SM: That’s true. And certainly, it’s you know students don’t want to spend four years pursuing a major that they don’t really want, and we want students to be able to achieve their goals, and pursue what they want to pursue, and that might mean maybe Berkeley’s not the right place for that. And so we welcome the conversation, and we certainly welcome those questions at Cal Day, because like you said, we really want to manage expectations, and we don’t want students to be unhappy with their choice of majors, so it’s important to us that everybody who is here gets to pursue what they want to pursue, and gets to achieve what they want to achieve. And you know having said that, we also have some pretty strict guidelines for the process. So we just want to make sure students are really aware that before they commit.
LV: Thank you so much for coming and speaking to us today. Because I know we’re starting to get the questions, so we are going to make sure we get this podcast out there so folks can hear it.
SM: Yes. You’re welcome. My pleasure.
LV: And thank you everyone for tuning into the not so secret Guide to Being a Berkeley engineer. And we’ll talk to you again in a couple weeks. Thank you.