How do I know if I am studying the right thing?

You may be studying the wrong thing. It could be the wrong major, or maybe it’s the wrong degree altogether. What is important to know is that it is not at all uncommon to feel this way, and you shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to change what you’re doing. In fact, it is completely normal – most people experience doubt at some point about the university decisions they have made.

So why do I feel down about what I’m studying? 

Perhaps your discontent stems from the way your chosen subject is taught at your university. Your study experience is implicitly tied to the department and its staff in your institution. You may have disagreements with a professor or other faculty member whom you encounter a lot – or, you could just hate that dingy basement your university calls a department. Or perhaps you’ve found your study harder than anticipated, and what once came naturally now takes work.

To begin with, identifying what you don’t like about your degree is crucial in order to figure out what to do about it. Do you end up just changing the major? Or do you change the degree?

What can I do about it?

To begin with, identifying what you don’t like about your degree is crucial in order to figure out what to do about it. Do you end up just changing the major? Or do you change the degree?

Around 20% of New Zealand undergrads change provider during the study - I was one of them. My second university taught my subject in a way I engaged with better. It’s a big change, but check out your options.

Naturally, that won’t always be the fix. In my case, I also changed one of my two majors when I changed providers, and was a lot happier with my new choice (chemistry is super cool, don’t @ me!) I’m not alone either, since 41% of NZ undergrads will change qualifications during study, and many more will change at least one major.

The reality is that most students have an incomplete idea of what a subject entails before starting one, and many will also have external pressures (what’s up, demanding family members!) on them. Research helps – talk to people you know who have pursued what you are pursuing, and definitely smash google looking for answers.

However, at the end of the day, the question of whether you are studying the right thing lies with self-examination.  It’s your life, and you’ll have to live with your choice. That being said, there are further considerations to make before you decide to pull the trigger.

Any advice to avoid making these mistakes? 

Firstly, it is a lot easier to switch subjects earlier on in your degree. It’s all like a complicated road map. If you change your destination during your journey, you may find that Google Maps can recalculate your route through connecting streets. Or, you may have to backtrack and go from the start. As every university operates a little bit different there is no substitute for talking with faculty staff.

Secondly, if you’re thinking about changing degrees altogether, book a time with both faculties. There is little general information that can help with these specifics, and I can’t stress how important faculty staff is with figuring out whether the switch is going to be easy. And if it’s going to be a complete logistical nightmare? Maybe changing paths after you’ve completed your degree is most suitable.

No, that’s not a typo. I’ve worked in an analytical chemistry lab run by an old geology major, alongside other technicians who had degrees in management and computer science. My best friend works in marketing with a fine arts degree. In a lot of cases, the skills you gain in a major are transferable to other areas, and most employers are aware of that. Writing, statistical analysis, project management, leadership – these transcend degree boundaries, so ask yourself what skills your current major is getting you, regardless of whether you want to work in that area or not. Weigh up the cost/benefit like that, and you may find you don’t need to switch.

Whatever you choose to do, most employers are just looking for the degree. Still, changing majors is really common and it can be hassle-free. I did it, and I don’t regret it. Get good advice from your faculties, your parents, your friends. Make a list of pros and cons and check it twice, and at the end of the day, do what you know you need to do for yourself, even if it means going against all that good advice.

As long as you’ve thought it through properly, it’ll be the right decision.


By Jack Buckley, Wellington, New Zealand