Failing Your College Classes? Try Changing Majors

How Failing Out of Your Major Can Be the Greatest Lesson

A student works on her laptop in a mask on the grass in front of a pool at UC Davis.
Alexa Carter works on her laptop at the Rec Pool at UC Davis. (Dawson Diaz)

My first ever midterm in college was for MAT 17A: Calculus for Biology & Medicine. I remember walking out of the classroom, immediately calling my dad, choking on tears and gasping for air between sobs as I tried to mutter the words “I failed my midterm.”

I was always a straight A student and failing my first ever midterm was a feeling that I had never experienced, nor one I wanted to experience again. Yet many more failed exams in calculus and chemistry made my stomach drop every time I received a “grades posted” notification over the following months. I remember praying over winter break that my final grades in both of those classes would get me by with a C. I’ve never been more happy to get a C and a C+ in my life. In that moment of blissful relief, I knew I needed to do something so I never felt the way I did during that quarter ever again.

Is changing your major bad? 

A student looks off into the distance in a biology lab at UC Davis.
Howard University student Imade Ojo photographed as she works in the Vannette Lab in Briggs Hall. Ojo is studying biology and she is at UC Davis for the summer as part of the University of California HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Initiative. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

No, changing your major is not bad. Actually, it can lead you to become even more successful.

I came to Davis with the hopes of possibly becoming a veterinarian. I say ‘possibly’ because I wasn’t entirely devoted to the idea. I thought I could make a lot of money in the profession, and with Davis being one of the top schools in the world for veterinary medicine, I figured I would be in good hands. In the back of my mind, I knew marketing, public relations and social media were all things I could be good at, as writing was always something I really loved. However, when applying to UC Davis, I chose to declare biochemistry — something way out of my comfort zone.

Original plans don’t always work out, and sometimes those surprises can be the greatest lesson. Successful UC Davis graduates have also changed their majors after their original plans didn’t work out. Take it from London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco and UC Davis graduate from the class of 1997. Breed was accepted to Davis with a scholarship in chemistry but soon learned that chemistry was not for her. In an interview with UC Davis Magazine, Breed reflects, “I was a bit of a clumsy chemist, spilling methylene chloride and liquid nitrogen. And I was too impatient to be a chemist.” She adds, “And — chemists might kill me for this — I wasn’t getting excited about it. I mean, I got excited when my crystallizations finally happened, but it took so long to get there!”

When should I change my major?

A student studies his laptop closely at UC Davis.
A student wears headphones as he studies on his laptop at the Moonlight Breakfast at the Memorial Union in December 6, 2022. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

I knew right after fall quarter that I did not want to stay on the path towards veterinary medicine, but I felt guilty about quitting early. Looking back, I know it was wrong of me to be that harsh on myself. Communication major advisor Alfonso Trejo agrees, “It’s a hard decision to come to. I think students should be patient with themselves in accepting that it is a difficult decision and that they should let it play out.” He continues, “You don’t want to be stuck in something that you’re not enjoying, especially something that’s related to your career – something that you’re going to do for the years to come.”

But when do we keep pursuing our passions through the hardships and when do we consider an alternative path? I can’t answer this question, only you can. However, as a start to finding an answer to that question, here are some resources and things to consider:

How nearly failing a class in college changed my life

Two students chat on a couch in front of a bright mural at UC Davis.
Maddie Miller, a second year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, and Bheshta Azizi, a second year international relations major, chat at the Cross Cultural Center. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

It took nearly failing out of my major for me to realize that we all have different talents for a reason. Not everyone has the skills it takes to be a veterinarian, and the world is more interesting because of that. We also need people with the skills to paint masterpieces, build skyscrapers or even to write a blog like this. When people ask me now why I changed my major, I always tell them that I realized I could either be a mediocre veterinarian or become an extraordinary writer. 

Do I regret coming in as a biochemistry major? No. It might have dropped my GPA (and that does suck), but if I didn’t at least try, I would have never known for sure that veterinary medicine wasn’t for me. Even though I failed, I gave it my all. For that, I am proud of myself. If you’ve also failed after trying, you should be proud too.

Alexa Carter (she/her) is a fourth year pursuing a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in professional writing. She is from La Quinta, California and is going into her third year as a social media intern for the department of Strategic Communications. Alexa's favorite part of the UC Davis campus is the CoHo, where she loves to sit at the barstools in Swirlz Cafe and watch people walk by while she does her work.

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