Changing Majors: Discovering Your Best Path to an Engineering Degree

Emily MacInnis and Sonika Sethi

Emily MacInnis (left) and Sonika Sethi (right)

Oct 22, 2021

UCLA Samueli Newsroom
Emily MacInnis first arrived at UCLA planning to study economics on a pre-law track, but that didn’t last long.

“After I was accepted, I realized that I did not want a career in law or business,” said MacInnis, who is now a fourth-year materials engineering student. “I perused the list of majors on UCLA’s website and came across materials science, a field that I did not know existed. Once I looked into it, I realized that was what I wanted to study in college.”

“Engineering can be tough at times, [but] I love how supportive the community is — everyone is rooting for each other and will help their classmates out,” said Emily MacInnis.

MacInnis, wanting to find a hands-on way to pursue her interest in chemistry, found that her new major was an ideal fit for her. “Materials engineering seemed like the perfect intersection between theory and application,” she said.

Every year, hundreds of students apply to change their majors to join the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering or to switch their major to another engineering discipline within the school, while only a few dozen leave their engineering major. This fall, nearly 90 students applied for a major switch to engineering.

Change-of-major applications are open during the first two weeks of every quarter and students are notified of the decision by the end of the fourth week. Those applying must meet the minimum eligibility requirements, as laid out by the UCLA Samueli Office of Academic and Student Affairs (OASA). For most majors, students need to have enrolled in engineering-related courses and earned at least a 3.5 GPA in those classes.

“We want to see the coursework because, to succeed in engineering, you need to be able to do well in the basic math, sciences and programming courses,” said Jan LaBuda, director of OASA. “Because we’re such an impacted area, it is about academic performance in those classes.”

OASA also hosts workshops every quarter with engineering counselors to help students prepare to apply for a switch into an engineering major.

Students are usually accepted into the major they apply to since most applicants meet the eligibility requirements, according to LaBuda. That being said, she added that preparation is key for students looking to become engineers.

“I think the biggest thing is for a student to not overload themselves,” LaBuda warned. “It’s unfortunate, but many of the students who don’t make the GPA criteria have overloaded.”

For Sonika Sethi, a fourth-year student who switched from bioengineering to mechanical engineering, the application process was simple and straightforward.

“Switching majors was actually easier than I expected it to be,” Sethi said. “The application for switching majors from within the school of engineering is pretty simple and short, and it mainly focused on my current performance in school and my reasons for wanting to switch.”

Pivoting to a major that is better aligned with a student’s interests can create a meaningful difference in their experience at UCLA.

“I have really enjoyed being an engineering student,” Sethi said. “It’s so fun to participate in hands-on technical projects and learn about how many things in the world work. I believe my time at UCLA engineering has really prepared me for my future, and it has also introduced me to some really close friends.”

MacInnis concurred. “I have met some of my best friends within my major,” she said. “Engineering can be tough at times, [but] I love how supportive the community is — everyone is rooting for each other and will help their classmates out.”

“Some engineering clubs have freshman-oriented, yearlong projects that teach important technical skills,” said Sonika Sethi.

For those interested in changing their major, Sethi recommends joining an engineering club and talking with students within the school.

“Some engineering clubs have freshman-oriented, yearlong projects that teach important technical skills,” she said. “Also, talking to professors and faculty advisors — especially those whose research interests you — about postgrad plans for each major can be helpful in planning a career.”

Students may be worried about taking a class outside of their major requirements, but doing so is one of the best ways to discover other majors and fields, LaBuda said.

For this reason, UCLA also offers an “undeclared” major as an option for high school seniors applying to the university, giving them the chance to try out different classes in order to find the best fit.

“Explore, and explore early,” LaBuda said. “If there’s something in you that’s saying ‘huh,’ then this is the time to do it, especially at the freshman and sophomore level. And you don’t have to change your major, but at least talk to your academic counselor.”

Studying engineering can sound daunting, but students should not be apprehensive, MacInnis added.

“There is a stereotype that engineering students study constantly, are depressed and have no free time to have fun,” she said. “While engineering students do work hard, we definitely have time to pursue other things!”

Chloe Slayter contributed to this story.

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