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How to Decide On a Major: Take Your Time and Consider Flexibility

Payton Gleason, a junior sport coaching major at the University of Memphis, was not always sure that was what he wanted to do. 

When he first started attending the university, he was originally a marketing major. Then, after taking an accounting course, he decided to switch and pursue a degree in accounting. After mulling it over for a month and promising his parents that he would keep a minor in accounting, he switched a second time – finally landing on his third major in sport coaching. 

Gleason’s story is not unusual for students studying at the University of Memphis. According to Bridgette Decent from the university’s Office of Institutional Research, students switch their majors an average of two times while studying there. 

Many professors, academic advisors and career service counselors at the university agree that it is perfectly fine to not be sure what you want to study when you begin your journey and that trying different things before deciding can be helpful. 

“You don’t need to know what you need to do for the rest of your life right this second. We will figure that out. It’s going to be ok,” said Beverly McPhail, an advisor with the Academic Counseling Center (ACC). 

The ACC serves as the main advising hub for incoming freshmen, and counselors like McPhail help new students to narrow down a major through one-on-one sessions and with the help of tools provided by the Career Services Center (CSC). 

“My favorite tactic is to sit down and say, ‘If you could have your dream job today, what would that look like to you?’” McPhail said. 

She said that sessions with students typically begin by giving them a list of everything that is available to study and asking them to eliminate anything that is completely off the table. If they still can’t decide after that, McPhail said that she will then send them home, tell them to log on to PathwayU and then ask them to set up another appointment to go over the results. 

PathWayU is a program provided by the CSC that works like a personality and interest test and gives students a list of potential majors and careers that they would fit well in based on the results. – a website that explains which jobs correlate with which majors and what a student can expect from working in a certain field – is another tool provided by the CSC that McPhail uses for students. It is a subscription based website, but the University of Memphis provides access to its students without charge. 

“[The website] will really break down what you can do,” she said. “What jobs you can apply to, what they’re looking for in a student, what occupational outlook would look like, what the pay is, what jobs are being posted, all kinds of stuff.” 

For Gleason, the complete switch from a business-related major to coaching came from something inevitable in life: change. It came in the form of an updated roster of majors being offered at the UofM. As a distance runner for the university, Gleason found the decision was “a no-brainer.” 

At first he did not believe that he had the time to start and finish a new major. He reached out to advisors from the new department who helped him work out a new set of schedules, even allowing him to keep his minor and graduate on time. 

“I definitely couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “I don’t recommend, to anyone, changing your major without speaking to an advisor. They have more access than we do and are able to piece everything together and were able to show me what my schedules would look like after the change. They’re a blessing, really.” 

Reflecting on his path from a freshman to now, Gleason focused on the importance of finding interesting classes. 

“Finding pure enjoyment in classes helps me to know them at a different level,” he said. “That’s something I wish I knew as a freshman. Finding enjoyment really elevates the learning process and makes all of the work not only interesting, but also entertaining.”

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