‘This is the time of your life to make that decision’: Students discuss switching majors
Editor’s Note: These interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Jorge Rivera-Herrans is a senior at Notre Dame who, halfway into freshman year, switched his major from pre-med to Film, Television and Theatre with a concentration in theater. Before coming to Notre Dame, Rivera-Herrans had believed his entire life that he was destined to go into medicine.
“It was actually really intense, because my whole life was spent kind of preparing to go into medicine,” Rivera-Herrans said. “All my family were telling me, ‘Oh, I can’t wait for you to be a cardiologist,’ and stuff. So I never really questioned it, right? But on the side, I always wrote songs and did musical theater and stuff like that.”
After beginning at Notre Dame, however, Rivera-Herrans’s newfound freedom allowed him to explore his true passions, ultimately forcing a difficult realization.
“When I came to Notre Dame and got in for pre-med — not having those restraints on me all the time, telling me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna be doing pre-med,’ and this and that — that sort of allowed me to really explore other things and what I really liked to do more — which was musical theater and songwriting and writing musicals,” Rivera-Herrans said. “So yeah, I just made the switch, and it was — it was rough. They kind of got on me for it. But now they support it.”
Rivera-Herrans’s decision to switch majors was initially hard for his family to accept.
“My dad, he was the one that I fought with the most when I switched majors,” he said. “And it’s not because he thinks that — he just cares a lot, right? So he genuinely thought that I was ruining my life by leaving pre-med.”
Rivera-Herrans’s major switch also affected his friendships.
“Some of the friends that I told I was switching were all super happy for me. But occasionally you get that look — there’s that classic, ‘Oh, pre-med dropout changes into theater.’ It’s kind of like a running gag almost, because there’s that stigma against them,” he said. “But the people who do care will be there for you too, which is what I’ve learned.”
Ultimately, while his major switch proved turbulent, Rivera-Herrans found Notre Dame was a good place for him to make such a difficult decision.
“Honestly, a lot of the hard stuff was the internal battles,” he said. “Like, feeling this big disconnect, or feeling disappointed or feeling my family’s disappointed in me, I mean, that’s where most of the hardest stuff was. But I had a mentor in FTT and all the teachers are super great, so I think Notre Dame did great on that.”
Rivera-Herrans’s decision to switch majors, while difficult, proved absolutely necessary to leading a fulfilling life, he said.
Blaine McNulty is a Notre Dame senior with a double major in history and economics — but it wasn’t always this way. From biochemistry to environmental science, he’s had a total of five different majors during his time at Notre Dame. Like many, McNulty entered college as a pre-med student and eventually switched out, but unlike most, he didn’t make the switch until almost halfway through his undergraduate career.
“I felt like I was too deep in it to get out. I had started slacking off by that point, not really putting forth the effort that I knew I had,” McNulty said. “And so, about halfway through the second semester — my parents, my brother—and a couple friends about, just kind of reevaluated what I felt like I knew I would be good at.”
The switch wasn’t very surprising to the people that know him well, McNulty said.
“My entire life, even back in high school, when I would tell people I was pre-med they would say, ‘You seem like more of a lawyer, or an economist — someone who likes to argue and do those kinds of things.’ So I decided that maybe they know me a little better than I know me,” he said. “So I rolled into the department of science and said I wanted to transfer out of the College of Science. I got a couple weird looks and a couple ‘You’ve already made it halfway through, are you sure about this?’ And yeah, it’s been great since. I haven’t looked back once.”
McNulty said he is confident that he made the right choice.
“You have to do what you know you want to do, you know? You’re in college, you’re independent,” McNulty said. “This is the time of your life to make that decision. If you’re doing something that you don’t enjoy in college, you have to keep in mind that this is where a lot of people determine their career path. If you don’t like what you’re doing now, you probably won’t like it 20 years down the road. And life’s too short to do anything but that which you love to do.”
But switching majors wasn’t without its downsides, McNulty said.
“That was definitely one of the big stressors of changing majors, was that it is kind of like starting from scratch. I call my junior year my second freshman year, because I was in Intro to Micro,” McNulty said. “It was me, a couple sophomores who made a late switch, and a legion of freshmen, who were way too excited for a 9:25 a.m. lecture.”
Some of the biggest pressure didn’t come from friends or family, but the new classes themselves.
“When you’re a junior in a class full of all freshmen, there is kind of a pressure that you’re supposed to be really successful here, because these are intro level classes and you’ve been here for three years. Like, these are freshman who are still trying to figure out what the difference between Domer Dollars and Flex Points are,” he said.
Despite this, McNulty said he doesn’t regret the path he took.
“I feel well-rounded because of it, you know? I can talk with anyone about anything. I still regularly talk to a lot of my friends from chemistry, from biology,” McNulty said. “So I do feel like it’s given me a very wide circle on campus, which has been really nice.”