It’s the question you can’t stand to be asked one more time: “What are you going to major in?" Prospective college students around the country are pondering this question, with their futures seemingly hanging in the balance. But what if the answer was a simple and proud, “I’m undecided." We may surprise ourselves with an increase in direction, passion, and purpose as we pursue our future careers and selves. Check out these key reasons to explore an undecided major and when to avoid it.
The longer you spend in college, the more semesters of tuition you pay, obviously. With college tuition costing over $10,000 per year in state and $36,000 per year out of state, according to US News, changing your major in a few years can mean wasting money.
According to the US Department of Education, one in three undergraduate students enrolled in a Bachelor’s or Associate’s program will change their major at least once, and one in ten students will change their major at least twice. That number could decrease if seniors leaving high school would consider the undecided route as a potential year to explore interests.
Who is influencing your choice of major? Well-meaning parents, teachers, and friends may be to blame when it comes to seeing your future clearly. A year at college, away from outside pressures and influences to become a doctor, a lawyer, or even the artist your best friend has decided you need to be, can give clarity.
A Strada-Gallup report said, “Fifty-five percent of adults name a friend, a family member or—in fewer cases—a community leader as a source of advice about their major." It goes on to say that the implications of the study reveal “The most commonly sought forms of advice about choosing a major are not always the most helpful." Taking freshman year to investigate interests through joining clubs and organizations on campus may lead to discovering a passion and path.
With 51 percent of the country living in dread of going to work every day, the prospect of avoiding a future you hate is intimidating. As a high school senior it may appear the most important reason to pick a path is money, especially as the country struggles with massive student loan debt. It’s confusing to love English or music but to be a bit unsure as to what job that will lead to that will support you and your future family. All of this is occurring before a teen’s brain has fully developed, as the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making center, doesn’t finish developing until your early 20’s.
College is the place where you notoriously end up in a few classes you never expected to...horseback riding for a gym credit, wine tasting for a science elective. General education requirements generally get a bad reputation for being somewhat boring or similar to high school, right around the time you thought you’d taken your last math class, but college students can end up finding a path they didn’t expect through one of these classes.
Don’t hesitate to take a “weird" option that’s not your typical choice as you select those first classes freshman year. You just may discover that you were meant to be an archaeologist after all, when you didn’t know what the word meant a few months prior.
Taking some time to be undecided can give students time to figure out what a lawyer really does, or how many hours a scientist works on the weekend. What is marketing, anyway? Does that job they are looking at involve travel? Many students have had little exposure to the daily realities of a field they may consider, and through intentional exploration and spending time with mentors in the field, they can figure this out before deciding.
A report from Butler University even proposes that colleges should not allow students to declare a major until their second year, and instead should offer workshops and summer programs to assist with the decision. It also explores the stages of decision making a student goes through, including the idea that there’s only one “correct" major for them, which ultimately may be short-sighted.
A few fields of study have stricter requirements that will lead to delays if you don’t declare these majors early, including engineering and medical programs. The New York Times suggests smart planning may give you more options: “Some majors have a curriculum that follows a tight sequence of courses. It’s easier to switch out of engineering than it is to take it up (if that’s possible at all) later in your college career."
Additionally, avoiding a potential area of talent or interest can set you back a bit, such as the expert violinist who doesn’t set foot in the music hall for a year or two then tries to come back to it. Keep your foot, hand, paintbrush, or mind in the game as you explore other curiosities if you are in one of these specialty fields.
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Alex Frost is a freelance journalist and high school journalism teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has written for Reader's Digest, Your Teen Magazine, and Cincinnati Parent magazine, among others. She is also a mom to three sons under age four, and spends most of her time teaching toddlers and teenagers independence, communication, and compassion for others. Please check out her portfolio at: www.alexandrafrost.weebly.com