Many students at OSU change majors

Salvador Castillo, the director of the Office of Institutional Research, sits in his office. Castillo believes that the frequent major changes can help students choose a major that is a good fit for them.

Erin Dose, News Contributor

Data shows high rate of undergraduates switching majors as they explore their options

Nearly 40 percent of first-year students entering Oregon State University in 2009 changed not only their major, but their college within the university, before graduation.

This data comes from the OSU Office of Institutional Research’s ‘Movement in Primary College’ study of the cohort of incoming freshman students from the fall term of 2009. According to Salvador Castillo, the director of the Office of Institutional Research, the data displays the frequency with which OSU students change majors.

“The biggest take-away is that a large portion of OSU students switch majors,” Castillo said.

The most recent data is from students who began at OSU in 2009 due to a six-year time frame for graduation.

“This is a universal standard, the six-year graduation rate, but not everyone understands why we use 6 years. We want to capture as many students that we can that have graduated, so you can compare it to other years,” Castillo said. “You don’t capture everyone, but you capture the vast majority. You could go out 10 years and capture more.”

According to Kerry Kincanon, head adviser for the University Exploratory Studies Program, some students change their major based on their surroundings.

“When there are students who are not happy in their major, it’s because there is a disconnect between them and the environment,” Kincanon said. “Interests, values and skills are foundational, and your major should fit them.”

Lyndsey Dixon, a third-year agricultural business management major, struggled to choose a major.

“I was very indecisive because people always give advice on how they would do it. My interests ranged far and wide, and since I was constantly getting conflicting opinions, my decision was made twice as hard,” Dixon said.

After exploring her major options, Dixon managed to find the right major for her.

“I stumbled across agricultural business management. This has managed to incorporate a lot of my past interests, in a way that is malleable for whatever I decide to do in the future,” Dixon said. “I am able to use my agricultural roots, but I can push them the way I need them to be.”

According to Allison Daley, a fourth-year double-major in digital communication arts and psychology, she had to try multiple options before settling on her major.

“I had to try science, philosophy and other subjects to figure out what I was most interested in,” Daley said.

According to Kincanon, some students need time to explore.

“It’s good to reflect on your experiences and how those things are fitting with your interests and values and skills,” Kincanon said. “If taking a course helps you realize you don’t want to do something, that’s valuable. It helps you, in the long run, get to the right place.”

Castillo says the data reflects the importance of exploration.

“The main thing is that it’s not necessarily bad that students switch majors. We want students to explore and find the one that fits them the best,” Castillo said. “When you come out of high school, how do you know what you’re going to like best?”

While the data from the ‘Movement in Primary College’ study shows that almost 39.5 percent of those who graduated from OSU switched colleges, according to Castillo this approach can yield an incomplete picture.

“We take the primary major and report by the college. It makes a simpler read, but it could also be misleading because it doesn’t count for multiple majors,” Castillo says.

Another error in the data could come from major programs being reassigned to other colleges, according to Castillo.

“A major that was in one college may move to another college. They haven’t really switched majors, but the major moved organizations,” Castillo said.

According to Castillo, including UESP in the cohort slightly skews the data.

“In these percentages, everyone in UESP has to move eventually, so that can be a little misleading in the number,” Castillo said.

Overall, Castillo said switching majors is to be expected with a large portion of students.

“It’s just part of the OSU experience,” Castillo said.

For more information on the ‘Movement in Primary College’ study, visit the Office of Institutional Research’s page on OSU’s website.