Changes to your College Student’s Major

Whether it’s a discontinued program or course, or alterations to graduation requirements.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

Maybe you’ve heard the complaint from your college student that a couple of the required courses he’d planned on taking next semester aren’t being offered, which impacts his future semesters. Or your sophomore daughter just learned that her major is being discontinued and she doesn’t know what that means for her. Or the one course your son needs to graduate isn’t a class anymore.

Though all this sounds bad, there are ways your student can still fulfill all his major requirements and graduate on time. Read on to learn more.

Colleges don’t make dramatic changes to curricula or majors randomly. Their goal remains a timely graduation for all their students.

CANCELLEDLarge cuts in state funding to public universities has caused many colleges to adjust how often they offer certain courses and evaluate the popularity and viability of specific majors in order to save money on resources, primarily faculty and classroom space. Despite these changes and adjustments, colleges focus on working with their students to meet the promise they made to each one of them upon admission.

Discontinued courses When removing a course from a major or a general education requirement, the department usually replaces it with an existing class or introduces a new one. If either of these options isn’t provided to your student, he can, with the assistance of his advisor, petition to substitute another course or have the requirement waived.

Infrequently offered courses A student can pursue the same options as with a discontinued course. The point is, if the college doesn’t offer a solution, it’s up to your student to request one.

Changes to graduation requirements Generally, a student’s graduation requirements coincide with the ones published in the course catalog her first semester. Curriculum changes only apply to future students using future catalogs. An upperclassman can choose to switch to the new requirements if she likes the changes.

Discontinued majors Removing a program isn’t taken lightly by any college, but if it happens, the students already enrolled in the program are almost always allowed to continue and graduate within a reasonable amount of time, say five years. New students can’t enroll in the program and current ones might need to move to a different department.

Though it’s rare, occasionally a freshman shows up to campus to find out the program he signed up for is being discontinued. There are various reasons, such as retiring faculty or low enrollment in the major. In any case, your freshman will likely be allowed to complete the program, with intro courses available for only a limited time. If not, he’ll be diverted to a related major and possibly directed to a minor (or allowed to create his own), which, in combination, can practically recreate the original program he signed up for.

If your student can’t find a program he likes at this college, he can transfer to another one for the spring semester or the following year.

Taking a proactive approach Colleges typically don’t make changes to programs without informing their students in a reasonable amount of time. So it becomes a student’s responsibility to stay informed. Here are the best ways to do that:

  • Meet regularly with your advisor (at least once a semester).
  • Ask for a new advisor if yours isn’t helpful.
  • Read all your college emails, especially those from your advisor and department.
  • Declare a major (and minor) sooner rather than later to stay informed of changes.
  • Develop relationships with your professors who can work as allies when you face these unexpected issues.
  • Learn about the various support centers on campus, like the advising center and student services center, where you can get answers to your questions.
  • Get to know your academic department staff, especially those working in the office.
  • Do a degree audit no later than spring semester of junior year to check where you stand in terms of graduation requirements.

Share your thoughts and experiences with changes to programs and curricula with your college student in the comments section below.

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