UNC Asheville students struggle declaring a major

Joe Gentry
[email protected]
UNC Asheville faculty and students say dealing with the struggles and complications
of declaring for a major during college can be stressful, but the decision has a lasting
impact on the student’s future.
“I always say it’s unfair to ask 18-and 20-year-olds what they want to do with the rest
of their lives,” said Brad Petitfils, senior director of advising and academic success.
Almost a third of first-time college students who declared a major switched at least
once within their first three years, according to Inside Higher ED, a digital media
“It is tough trying to declare a major especially when you’re really not sure what you
want to do after college,” said Eric Wilkins, a junior at UNCA.
Students change their major on average at least three times throughout their college
career, according to information from Borderzine, an online publishing platform.
“I have already changed my major once, and I’m only a sophomore,” Wilkins said.
Inside Higher ED said the majority of colleges have policies for when students have
to declare a major. Most colleges do not have strict policies on how many times a
student may switch their major. Switching majors while in college can be a positive
experience, according to Inside Higher ED’s data.
“UNCA has a history of encouraging students to declare in the second year,” Petitfils
said. “Part of that is meant to help students do more exploratory curricula in their first
year or two to make sure they are convinced that they are choosing the right major.”
According to UNCA officials, students want to declare a major by at least their junior
year. This is because when a student becomes a junior, students do not have much
time left if they want to graduate in four years.
Declaring a major will cause stress and anxiety in some students, according to Dukes
Declassified, an online magazine. Having this stress can lead to affecting the
student’s daily life, like worrying about the future or isolating themselves.
“Particularly if they’re struggling academically, this can lead to a number of different
issues including depression,” Petitfils said. “If the student is struggling to pass or is
failing classes, they may totally disengage and not want to leave their room.”
Developing stress while trying to declare a major can also be caused by pressure from
parents, according to faculty.
“I think that sometimes students feel pressure from parents,” Petitfils said. “They feel
even more pressure if they choose a major and then struggle academically, because
they may not want to admit they’re having trouble if there was an expectation from
the parents.”
Parents can develop concerns if their student goes into college undecided. According
to a public radio report from WAMC northeast, parents might worry about the student
taking too much time to decide on what they want to do and end up having to go to
college for extra additional years. Having to worry about paying for additional years
of college leads to concerned parents.
“Those are very difficult conversations for students to have with their parents,
especially in their first year,” Petitfils said.
Giving a student space to figure things out on their own can be beneficial to the
student, according to information from WAMC. Students will be happier with their
career if they figure things out on their own rather than being pressured into
“My parents have always been supportive of my decisions in life without pressuring
me too much,” Wilkins said.
According to UNCA faculty, concerns about how much a student’s degree will matter
in the workforce adds stress to students declaring a major.
“Unless you’re going into a technical field like engineering, your undergraduate
degree actually doesn’t matter that much, what you study,” said Jordan Perry, healthy
campus liaison. “What a lot of employers and graduate schools are looking for is that
you have an undergraduate degree, not necessarily that you studied something really
Students that major in something they love are more likely to be highly motivated,
according to information from Seattle PI education. Course work is more appealing to
the student when they major in something they love. Majoring within your interest
allows you to network with more people in your field and develop connections.
“I just say do something that you’re interested in,” Perry said.