Possibly Switching Majors

So, I’m currently trying to decide if I should switch majors when I go back to Truman in the fall.  Any advice would be much appreciated, so PLEASE comment below if you have any comments about my choices below, or if you would like to add another major you think I should consider.

(Staying With) Computer Science: The advantages include a shorter time till graduation, many friends currently in the major, an excellent rapport with my advisor, and good prospects of finding a well-paying job afterwords.  The disadvantages include the fact that I’ve discovered I hate programming, and don’t want to be a CS professor, which is pretty much it for job options as far as I know.

Political Science: I love political science!  It was my major freshman and sophomore year, so I already have had a fair amount of classes and know the faculty.  The downside is that I don’t want to be a lawyer, and most of the interesting foreign policy jobs are very competitive and/or require insane hours.  I don’t want to be a political science professor either — I hear there aren’t that many openings, and it would require many years in grad school, which I’d rather avoid, especially with uncertain job prospects afterwards.

Spanish: I like Spanish.  I speak and read it fairly well, which I’m told is a good skill to have in today’s world.  I’ve done some volunteer ELL tutoring at the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids that I really enjoyed, where I got to use my Spanish skills a bit.  I could become a teacher, or maybe work in a business.  I’m not crazy about business, but if I got to speak Spanish it might be worth it.  However, majoring in Spanish would delay my graduation even more than it already has been delayed.

Math: I’m not passionate about math, but I’m good at it and I really enjoy helping people with their homework and getting them to understand the concepts behind the algorithms.  I’d most likely become a math teacher, which I can kind of see myself doing.  I was involved in math club in middle school and high school, and had a lot of good experiences with it, and it might be fun to coach a math club team.  This option would also push my graduation date back.

16 thoughts on “Possibly Switching Majors

  1. Ultimately, I think you have to look at this with the long-term in mind. Computer science is the best short-term option, but I wonder how fulfilling you’ll find it if you hate programming. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life doing something you don’t like. That’s ultimately why I couldn’t bring myself to go on in economics.

    As for political science, I know you love it, but I also know you hate writing the papers involved. If you can tough those out, though, you might be able to find employment with some kind of non-profit. I’ve heard the same thing about political science professor jobs. I considered going to grad school in political science for a while, but somewhere along the line, I lost my passion for it. Well, actually I know exactly where: Public Policy Making. If you go with political science, you might want to look up the variety of jobs you can do with the degree.

    Spanish would clearly be a useful thing to have in business, but I’m not sure you’d really need to major in it. I think Grammar and Comp and Conversation are the two most important classes. A lot of the higher stuff is literature, and if I recall correctly, you didn’t really enjoy Intro to HIspanic Lit. The teacher route might be something to consider, though that would require additional time in school to get teacher certification and maybe do Truman’s MAE.

    The math might be a decent option, though you would also have to get teacher certification for your intended path. I worry because you’re not passionate about it, though. You might run into the same problem you’ve run into with computer science. But I could see you being a math teacher. That would at least give you something to work toward even if you’re not always enjoying your classes. After all, what you’d teach would not be as advanced as most of what you’re taking.

    You might also want to consider looking on the Career Center’s website. They have a link of what you can do with every major. It might give you some ideas you haven’t yet considered.

  2. CS isn’t always about straight-up writing code. A lot of it is about testing and maintaining code, writing requirements, socumentation, etc.

    Its also really nice to get paid, on average, 62k/year.

    But if you genuinely hate coding, then perhaps you do need to examine your options!

    • I actually liked doing HTML and CSS for websites, so I don’t hate absolutely everything CS related. And writing requirements seems like something I might like. So I’m starting to think I’ll stay with CS and try to find my niche somewhere in the field.

      • That’s interesting! (OK in my little world). Any chance to play with HTML5 on the mobile side? To me mobile apps are like haikus to webpages’ sonnets. All the cross-platform and multiple form factors are creating need for programmers who can deal with that, ongoing as OS’s change and change again. We and our clients are looking for good partners and not many really well-established shops out there with a full range of competencies. We even have to think about Blackberry again.

      • I have a friend who’s working on an app right now. I’ve done some HTML5 myself, but only on the web side of things. That’s been my favorite part of computer science so far, so I’m going to look into that. Thanks for the suggestion! 🙂

  3. Hmmm….. I’m leaning toward finishing your computer science degree or switching to a math major based on everything you said above… I’ve known entirely too many poly sci majors who now have no job, jobs not even requiring a college degree, or who have gone into law enforcement, which I know isn’t for you. As far as Spanish, in my opinion, there are so many native Spanish speakers here in the US that unless you are exceptionally good at and LOVE It, it will be hard to make a decent living. All the translators we use in the schools and courts and medical clinics around here are native speakers. They know the nuances of differing dialects and regional culture much better than non-native speakers.

    Math – You would need to get credentialed to teach, like Ryan mentioned, and at least out here in CA, teaching jobs are very hard to come by right now (unless you wanted to do special education). And it would require a lot more schooling – wouldn’t you need to complete a Liberal Studies major to teach?

    If you finished the computer science degree, you could pursue your math degree in the evenings or on-line, while working and earning a decent living. There is nothing wrong with working in a field you aren’t passionate about – the experience of dealing with bosses, timelines, co-workers, office politics, managing your own finances, saving for retirement, figuring out your own insurance, etc while living on your own might be worth it for a few years while you really decide what you want to do. And you’d be out on your own, which I found really helped me grow in so many ways (even while doing jobs I wasn’t passionate about…). I think just about everyone I know has worked in fields they weren’t crazy about, and if you look at it like a stepping stone toward something you really want to do, it may be more bearable. It’s not like you have to stay in computers your whole life – many, many people go to graduate school while working – I did, and you could, too.

    My vote is for you to become a physical therapist or occupational therapist, like your dear auntie 🙂 Pay is great, job prospect is great, and there are SO many different fields you could work in – from rehab to home health to schools to private practice and everything in between.

    • That’s a good point about all the native Spanish speakers- I hadn’t considered that. And I really liked what you said about how doing something I’m not passionate about can still be a good experience. I learned a lot from my summer job scooping ice cream at the baseball stadium, even though I definitely don’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Plus, there’s so much emphasis on trying to find your perfect major and career now that it’s easy to forget that I can switch jobs if it turns out I hate it, and that you don’t have to go to grad school straight out of college.

      Right now I’m leaning towards finishing the computer science degree. I’m getting a little burned out academically, so it would be nice to be done fairly soon. There are some parts I like about it, I just don’t think those parts are emphasized in Truman’s curriculum. I have a lot of friends in the major, and I really like my advisor, which is good since I can hopefully get a good recommendation from him that will partially offset my spotty academic record. Also, living at home has convinced me that I really want to find a job where I can support myself so I can get my own place, and working in computer science would definitely allow me to do that.

      I’m still thinking about teaching at some point, but since I’m not sure, I don’t want to totally switch majors (I’d have to major in whatever I’d teach, since Truman doesn’t offer an undergraduate education major, and then get my MAE). Unless I suddenly know exactly what I want to do with my life, I think I’m going to finish my CS degree, see how my first job goes, and figure out things from there.

      Thank you for all of your advice!

      • Sounds very reasonable and doable at this point in your life – you will always have options – I think you are ready to be done with school for a while, start work, and then see where life takes you…. your future will most likely become much more clear as you work, support yourself, and take a break from academia. When and if you decide to go back to school, you will come in with a clearer vision and refreshed sense of who you are – school is tough on the brain, and you’ve done so well for so many years – you need a break! I support you in whatever you decide, but I really think finishing up with CS will allow you to get to that next step (getting your own place/having an academic break). I’m so glad you have a great advisor, too! You can do this – you are so close 🙂

  4. I learned very early in my first semester of college as a computer science major that I didn’t like programming. Of course, I’m not sure what I want to study (currently considering Biology, Chemistry, and/or something involving computers that isn’t computer science), so I wish I could offer some actually useful advice, but I pretty much agree with what Ryan says above.

    What about combining some of these? It would push your graduation back, but majoring in Math and Spanish, or majoring in one and minoring in the other, seems like it would at least give you some options that wouldn’t require coding. graduate school, or law school. If you did decide to become a teacher, I would think there would be schools that would be glad to have someone that could teach math or Spanish.

    • Yeah, I thought about that. But right now, I’m thinking I’ll stay with computer science and try to find something that’s not just straight coding (see extremely long comment under my aunt Christine’s post for details). Are you considering coming back to Truman?

      • The very first classes of any major are probably not an accurate predictor of what careers might use that major. There’s something to be said for establishing a foundation, but as was said in other comments computer science doesn’t just mean writing code, just as (for example) biology wouldn’t mean spending the rest of one’s working life dissecting frogs (or so I assume). I am considering coming back to Truman, and within the next couple of weeks I should learn if I’ve been accepted.

  5. Hey Andrea, another idea for Spanish is you could major in Linguistics. Which if you have all of your gen eds taken care of would only be 12 classes but possibly only 9 for you depending on the classes you have already taken. The reason I say Linguistics is you could then get a masters in either TEFL or TESOL and then go teach English in a Spanish speaking country of your choice. You could then learn Spanish while you are teaching English in that country. Plus you already know at least one person who would totally be willing to help you out when ever you need it.

    Really whatever you decide on should help you towards whatever your ultimate goal in life is and what you will be contempt with along the way to said goal. If you want just give me a call or shoot me a text and we can talk about all of your options in depth or as in depth as our knowledge about the subject will let us go.

  6. Hi Andrea, this is a tough area to give advice on. Fact is, I don’t think your choice of major matters long-term. My experience has been that I couldn’t predict how my past experience would be useful, even a couple years in advance. Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech on “connecting the dots backwards” is very accurate with my experience (you can find it on YouTube). I didn’t, unfortunately, become a billionaire and change the world’s culture, but other than that, it tracks with my experience and understanding of how you make use of what you learn.

    I started with an English major but most of my 30 years of work have been with technology companies. The programming that I took in college was helpful, but the most I ever do solo is some basic HTML and XML work. I understand a lot more about what my co-worker programmers are doing. None of the languages they work in or the devices they run on existed when I was in college. Another example of the unpredictability of change is that we have an exciting mobile initiative underway. When I started at this company four years ago, the iPad didn’t exist. Now our customers need iPad apps to compete.How do you get “ready” for that or how can you predict the “shelf life” of your major? If you are in technology or teaching, I don’t think you can. It’s trite, but a college degree, to me indicates the recipient can complete tasks at a certain level and has developed her own skills at learning–you learn how you learn. But this process doesn’t stop in college. You will have a steep learning curve in whatever first job you have–how do you navigate the organization’s culture, how do you relate with your co-workers, how do they evaluate your performance, how do you advance your personal sense of accomplishment, and on and on. that’s all in addition to learning job-specific content and skills. You’ll likely have good bosses and bad bosses, completely unrelated to the job title you have or what your college major was. You’ll find better ways to learn what you need to know ten years from now than you now at graduation. And ten years latter you will have different circumstances, self-awareness and ways to learn what you need to learn then.

    I think one consideration on major choice is how it will serve you in job applications, especially that huge hurdle of a first job. Comp Sci definitely opens more doors than the others, including non-programming jobs. It shows you can handle a rigorous program. It is a specific business need that gets you in the door and let’s you look around at what else you would like to do in an organization.

    Spanish is OK as a minor, but not much more valuable than listing Spanish fluency. Lots of people take foreign language in college and are nowhere near having the fluency needed in a job. You really need to work in the language to get to that point. I had to test in two foreign languages for my PhD and lived in a french-speaking country for almost two years but I’ve lost all fluency in French and Spanish, despite several college level courses post-graduation. I’d never list it on a job application. In my opinion, Spanish is great if you end up working in a job that it helps, but I’d recommend that you develop it as needed, don’t stake a teaching career on it–that’s one area where demographic trends show us that native speakers will be available in growing numbers throughout your work life. If you can speak Spanish well, it can open up many opportunities, but teaching I don’t think is a good bet. And all these are bets, predictions, with a lot of uncertainty.

    Math is a great major–that can open a lot of business and technology jobs. Analytics and decision support will be huge areas during your career. The area called Business Intelligence is really done poorly right now. Data visualization is especially interesting to me. People who can separate signal from noise in big data will be in short supply and a math degree gives you instant credibility and some leeway to be eccentric. Comp Sci does this too. No matter who you are, you want leeway to be who you are. Teaching, to me, works the other way. You are inevitably in a spotlight, albeit a small one, and that can be unsettling.

    I tend to favor writing skills in the people I hire. So Comp Sci with a Poli Sci minor shows me you likely can do both analytical work and have some level of critical thinking and written/verbal competency. I don’t know what exactly you don’t like about college classroom programming, but that may not mean you dislike actually working on a programming team with a purpose–or you might like other aspects of software development such as designing user acceptance testing or writing automated functional test scripts, or support in the sense of trouble-shooting (in our case enterprise software systems).

    However, if adding a minor stops you from graduating and getting out in the work world, it’s not worth adding at this point, in my opinion. I think you need to get into some work situations and find out what you like and don’t like. I liked teaching when I did it for seven semesters, but I didn’t know if I’d like it before I did it. I’d really test teaching as an experience out before investing in getting a teaching certificate. Can you handle students who don’t care? How about your own passion for the subject? Do you mind students making fun of how you dress or catching you in a mistake (both of which happened to me more than once). Lots of things to think about with teaching. Great career for the right person. Sometimes a good thing to do for a few years. Vern started as am elementary school teacher. Your great-grandfather was a teacher before starting a hardware store business.

    Poli Sci is one of those majors like English that you can do almost anything with. It qualifies you for nothing and everything. I chose English and only rarely regretted it, but I had to frame my value to my employees with each new job. It’s a more difficult path than getting a physical therapy degree or a CPA-type of credential that qualifies you for a fairly defined set of jobs, but it fits the shifting job market better, I think. Though lots of CPAs never do accounting and lots of lawyers never practice law (going to law school right now is an especially bad decision in my opinion). Policy people often have degrees in history, philosophy, English that give them a general foundation to learn and work with others. Very often, once you get a job, no one cares what your major was; most people you work with never know, never ask, except to make conversation — more where did you grow up, what did you major in.

    It might be a bit overwhelming to focus on the job search and the tough job market, but the annually updated “What Color is My Parachute” is good on self-assessment and putting life career changes in perspective. Researching companies you might want to work with and looking at job descriptions can be intimidating. Job descriptions are usually written with the ideal candidate with experience in mind. Entry-level jobs are out there, though. And you only need one yes to get started.

    Hope something in this is helpful. What you do will turn out to be right because it will be your path.

    Your Uncle Phil

    • Thank you for your very in-depth response! I’m thinking I’m going to stick with Comp Sci, since I would like to have some concrete field to start job-hunting in. I think my idea of teaching was based on those idealistic movies where the teacher comes in and magically turns all the students’ lives around. I still might consider it, but I don’t think I’m ready to make a commitment in that direction yet. I especially liked how you mentioned that there’s always a steep learning curve with the first job. Right now, there’s so much stress on becoming a good job candidate (from both my professors and my mom) that I start to freak out because there’s so much I don’t know. So it’s good to know that learning how to learn is the most important thing. 🙂

  7. Just popping in to give you some advice from a different perspective. You would probably be best suited by completing the computer science degree and finding a job in the field. Computer Science pays well, and if you’re smart about money, you could save up for the possibility that you might go back to school in the future.

    Also, your job isn’t your life. Your job is what you do from nine to five. The rest of the day is up to you. You can spend it listening to your favorite music, reading new books by your favorite authors, or hanging out with friends. This is a point that’s kind of hard for me to see at times. I think we can have a tendency to see jobs and school as everything about us when that’s not true.

    Not to mention, I’m sure you’ll feel better about coding when you’re getting paid a bunch of money to do it. It’s also something you don’t have to go to grad school to do.

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