By Emily Chaiet
Catie L’Heureux is the associate managing editor of New York Magazine’s The Cut. When she first came to Northwestern University in 2010, however, journalism was the last thing on L’Heureux’s mind.
“I was a really hard worker all throughout high school and college,” L’Heureux says. “I could work hard to be good at anything. I was good at math and I was good at science... but for me, pre-med wasn’t it.” This realization prompted L’Heureux to switch her major from pre-med to journalism at the start of her junior year.
It turns out that such drastic changes in majors or career paths is not uncommon amongst college students. About 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their majors at least once, and the average college student changes their major three times before graduation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. College is the time to explore oneself and in doing this, many students realize that the career tracks they thought they wanted might be the wrong ones for them.
As she was looking for a new major, L’Heureux considered journalism, but she knew she would have to switch from Weinberg to Medill. Once she made up her mind, she realized the battle had just begun.
“I had never written a journalistic article in my life,” she says. “I had this one year of moving towards what I wanted and really having to work hard and risk not getting it.”
Not only can it be difficult to adjust to the new skill set required of a different major, but switching majors can also make it difficult to fulfill the required credits to graduate. Northwestern junior Caroline DeMarco had to strategically plan her schedule over the years when she changed her major from political science to computer science. It did not help that she was a transfer student from Loyola University in Chicago studying environmental policy before transferring to Northwestern for sophomore year.
“I had to choose [my major],” DeMarco says. “There was no going back at that point because I didn’t have enough credits to have that flexibility to flip between majors. I basically have three years to fulfill all my major requirements which is incredibly difficult.”
Heather Bacon, assistant director of advising and student development for the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern, says she has seen engineering students take very different approaches to their studies, often changing their majors to more traditional humanities subjects like psychology or history. According to Bacon, there is an exchange of approximately 40 to 50 students transferring in and out of McCormick each year.
“They kind of realize engineering isn’t where their career goals and interests lie,” Bacon says. “Through some more exploration, they realize that a different department may be a better fit.”
Let’s be honest—Northwestern is a tough school. Between pulling all nighters to study for your organic chemistry exams and trying to perfect your resume for the career fair, the idea of changing paths can be a bit overwhelming. When your Google calendar starts to look like someone spilled rainbow sprinkles all over your laptop, making time to find a new career can seem like an impossible task. But many students at Northwestern prioritize studying what they are passionate about despite the stress of switching majors.
L’ Heureux says the most important thing when considering a college major is to make sure it sets you up to do something you love. While it may be a pain now to navigate unfamiliar territory of a new major or tack on extra classes, when you set yourself down a path that you’re passionate about, it more than pays off in the long-run.
“You’re going to have to do [your job] for eight or 10 hour days for like 50 years or more. You want to be happy when you’re doing that,” L’ Heureux says. “Look back at what you have loved doing and see if you can make a career out of it.