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Big changes like switching majors or transferring schools can feel very scary. The last thing you want is to learn that you’ll need another semester (or two) of course work before you can graduate, but that’s the situation a lot of students find themselves in after changing majors or transferring schools.

Why does this happen? In short: poor planning.

Degree programs often have very different graduation requirements, so, for example, if you are a sophomore-level linguistics major who decides that English literature may be your true calling, then you’ll need to start taking literature courses—possibly even some at the freshman level, which will set you back. This same scenario can happen on an even larger scale if you are transferring schools. Here are some tips to help keep you on track:

Know the Policies Upfront

Learn as much as you can about the major (or school) you are switching to. Does your new major have a mile-long list of pre-major requirements that you will have to tackle? Does your new school even accept transfer academic credits from your current school? If not, that means you’ll spend even more time (and money) at the school you are hoping to transfer to. Weigh the decisions carefully.

Know When to Make the Switch

It’s usually not advisable to make huge changes to your schedule during the course of the semester. Most colleges have specified dates on which you can change your major. When it comes to transferring schools, aim for transferring in to the new school for the following fall semester. Summer is the best time to make these big changes. All too often transferring between the fall and spring semesters is too stressful—and that one month you have (if that) between the semesters is stressful enough without having to think about finding new living arrangements and planning a schedule at a new college.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Changing majors and/or transferring schools means starting over, and this is always risky. That’s why it’s important for you to do as much research as you can on the degree requirements and what life at your new school will be like. Read the policies and, if you can, speak to students who are already majoring in the area you hope to switch to. The same goes for transferring schools—visit the campus beforehand and make connections early.

Whether or not you’re switching your major or transferring schools, both are big decisions that you want to get as much insight into as possible. Discuss your options with your academic adviser. If you’re transferring schools, make sure to speak to a representative from the transfer admissions department about its policies and procedures. Many schools are on a semester-based calendar, but there are other schools that operate on a quarter system, which could impact the number of course credits you’re bringing in. Ideally, you want the switch to a new major or a new school to be as seamless as possible.