“What are you studying?” You’ve undoubtedly been asked this question at least 5 times, just during your first week of college. I remember being asked this question so often during my first year, and I remember feeling the awkwardness that would take over the conversation when I responded with, “I’m undeclared.” People would almost always respond to me in one of two ways; they’d say, “Oh, that’s okay,” or “What do you think you want to study?” When people responded to me with, “Oh, that’s okay,” it made me feel like there was an expectation that I should feel ashamed for being undeclared. When they responded with, “what do you think you want to study,” it made me feel like I needed to justify being undeclared to them because even though I did have interests in a few majors, I was still undeclared because I hadn’t decided on one yet. While these people always meant well, their responses acted as a reminder to me that our society has difficulty accepting uncertainty around education. Very few people know exactly what they want to do after college, especially not during their first year of college. So why do we expect everyone to know? People are afraid to waste time in college without having a major or a plan, but honestly, sometimes admitting you don’t have a plan is the best way to stay on track in college. An article on USA today explains “approximately 80% of students change their majors before they graduate” (National Center for Education Statistics). When you are early on in your college career, being undeclared means that you are taking general education courses that can be used for almost any major you choose. If you declare a major, some of the classes you take will be more specific and may not transfer as easily to other majors. This means that being undeclared and then declaring a major can be a simpler process than declaring a major and then switching it.
Something to keep in mind as an undeclared student is that it is important to be purposeful in your choices. It is okay to not know what you want to do, but it will be the most beneficial if you use your time while undeclared to explore your options.
Here are some tips on how I used being undeclared to make purposeful choices in my education:
Plan backwards- when I was a first year student, I met with Jon Linn, a career education manager at the Career Center. He told me to first think about what career I wanted, and then plan my education around that. This helped me to make choices in college that would keep me on a path for attaining the career I want after I graduate.
Meet with an advisor for a major you’re interested in- Thinking about majoring in Political Science? Schedule an appointment with a Political Science advisor! Doing this can provide a much more clear picture of what each major can offer you so you can see if it aligns with your goals. They can give you a list of the required courses, tell you about what most students do with the major, and give you an overall feel of the department.
Get involved- If there’s a major you’re curious about, try to get involved in it even before you declare. You can do this by speaking with a professor in the department, getting involved in research, joining a department’s club, or even applying for internships in that industry. These will allow you to test out the major to see if you enjoy it!