Switching majors at Emerson College: what it’s like and how to navigate the process


Gabel Strickland

Illustration by Gabel Strickland.

By Gabel Strickland, Staff Writer

Laurel Frisbee, who attended Emerson from 2018 to 2019, switched majors four times during her first year. She went from journalism to writing, literature, and publishing to visual media arts—for two weeks—before returning to her second choice. She calls herself the “poster child” for switching majors. 

“[My counselor, Wendy] was very accommodating with my emails at 2:00 a.m. going ‘hey Wendy … just so you know, I want to change my major again,’” Frisbee said. 

Emerson students switch majors all the time, according to Audra Boden Kenny, director at the Emerson College Academic Advising Center. 

“It’s common,” Kenny said. “This is just the chapter and the stage of life where there’s just so much reflecting and questioning and experiencing.” 

It is not surprising then that many students come to Emerson looking to study one discipline, but discover a new passion and decide to switch majors. But what kind of mental shift accompanies the move from one creative discipline to another? 

For many students, the process begins with finding what passion has always been at the core of their art. Sophomore Sam Kavich’s passion was storytelling itself, and film was originally her chosen medium. However, she soon realized she wasn’t a fan of the technical aspects of film production, and felt she could better practice storytelling as a creative writing major. 

“I was only interested in screenwriting, and we did not talk about that at all,” Kavich said. “That’s kind of when I realized that I was in the wrong place for what I wanted to do.” 

Many students have had similar experiences. Sophomore Sofia Giustozzi became a media arts production major because she had always loved films, but realized she had been more interested in film criticism and theory than the technical side of filmmaking. So, Giustozzi switched to media studies. Sophomore Moe Wang applied to Emerson as a journalism major to pursue her love of magazines, but she found WLP students studied magazine writing more than journalism students and switched majors accordingly. 

Once students discover they want to switch majors, another challenge is learning confidence in their decision. For Giustozzi, part of finding that confidence was learning how to say no to opportunities she might have once jumped at in her old major.

“If somebody asks me to do something, I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure, I can help, and then I’m so busy I’m racking my brain,’” Giustozzi said. “Honestly, [switching majors] gave me a lot more confidence in what I want to do, not only to educate myself, but as a career. 

Frisbee also emphasized how important it was that she learned to be self-assured in her decisions and in what she learned about herself. 

“I could realize that ‘this was not for me, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to have that be for me,’” Frisbee said.

But let’s say a student has successfully rerouted. Navigating a new field can be a different story, fraught with its own obstacles and complications. 

Sophomore Eva Windler found herself in entirely new social circles after switching majors from theater and performance to WLP. Windler found that acting students tend to be much more extroverted than writing students, which made it difficult to transition between friend groups.

“I feel like I’m behind again,” Windler said. “How do I insert myself into friend groups that already exist?”  

Cal Benn, a third year at Emerson who switched from a WLP major to a journalism major, concurred with Windler. As they explain, classes in different subjects naturally allow for different levels of socialization with peers. 

“There’s definitely different social settings within different majors,” Benn said. “With WLP it was like, ‘go home and write something’ … with journalism, it’s a lot of going out and finding stories together, and I think it’s just more social in general than WLP.”

It’s not just a different social landscape students can find themselves in, but a different professional landscape as well. As Windler learned when she switched from theater and performance to WLP, snagging a role through an audition versus finding an internship through an application process are vastly different experiences. While Windler had trouble finding roles she liked as an actress, she feels more optimistic about her career opportunities as an editor. 

“[Finding a role] always seemed really complicated, but with WLP it’s very straightforward,” Windler said. “I feel like I can be an editor. I can submit short stories to all of these different publications and see if they’ll get [published] anywhere. It actually got clearer for me when I switched majors.” 

While Windler found the shift stabilizing, some students, like Kavich, remain uncertain about future career prospects. Kavich has been researching past graduates on Emerge—an alumni networking website—to see what jobs creative writing graduates have gotten and judge if she can see herself pursuing them. However, she’s found that many of their career paths haven’t been straightforward, meandering between various positions and gigs. Kavich added a publishing minor to their creative writing major to provide more stability. 

“I can see myself now getting into the publishing industry or marketing for books,” Kavich said. “I’m here to become as good at creative writing as I possibly can before I graduate, and then I’ll figure out what to do with that.” 

These considerations, both practical and personal, can be overwhelming at times. Emerson’s Academic Advising Center and Career Development Center offer resources to help students navigate the major-switching process. 

For students who are undecided, Emerson launched a new course called “Discovery Lab” aimed at helping students transfer into a definitive track. According to Kenny, the course provides students with a sampling of each major within Emerson’s School of Communications, inviting professors to speak to the class about their programs and having students sit in on classes in journalism, marketing, and other major programs at Emerson.

Wang is one such student who found Discovery Lab helpful in her decision-making process, as the class explored a new major each week. Wang said the course was “interesting because we got to know what each major is doing.”

Carol Spector, director of Career Services with the Career Development Center, advises students to consider how transferable skills from one major can apply to classes and internships in another. She points out that WLP students often transfer their writing and editing skills into journalism internships. 

“I think a student should look more at the internship as ‘what are the skills I’m acquiring?’ Rather than just going into this sort of box of ‘journalism is this, and if I’m in marketing, I should be doing this,’” Spector said. 

Windler says she regularly uses the skills she learned as a theater and performance major to find internships in her new field of writing, literature, and publishing.  

“I apply skills from my theater stuff every day. The first year of acting programs is just learning about yourself and how to be confident, so I use that a lot when I’m doing interviews,” Windler says. 

Transferable skills can be useful in new classes as well. When Giustozzi switched from media arts production to media studies, she found that her understanding of the technical side of filmmaking from her previous classes enhanced her ability to construct film theories and arguments. 

The Career Development Center also offers resources for students researching career trajectories. The National Association of Colleges and Employers asks companies what skills they are looking for in new graduates regardless of major and publishes these “Career Readiness Competencies.” The Department of Labor creates an Occupational Outlook Handbook each year that students can learn to see what kinds of opportunities will be available in their chosen field in the coming years. Additionally, while many students know about Handshake and Emerge as job-finding and networking sites, the Career Development Center encourages students to also utilize its website Career Buzz, which allows students to connect with Emerson alumni, use job-prepping resources, and find jobs. 

Some students might find it helpful to know that they can earn up to 13 credits for internships, or that they can negotiate which specific requirements their classes fulfill with the Academic Advising Center. Switching into a new major can require an application and interview process, the details of which will be different for everyone. The Academic Advising Center offers advice for students’ individual needs.

But the only piece of advice Kenny gives to all students at Emerson? Trust your intuition. 

“If you’re having some uncertainty or doubt, that’s okay,” Kenny said. “I think that can be very scary for a student. If that intuitive feeling does rise, don’t keep it to yourself. Ask for help and talk it through.”