While statistics vary, it’s widely reported that at least 50% of those entering college are undecided about their majors, and 50%–70% of all students change their majors up to 3 times before they graduate. And is it any wonder? For a new college student, choosing one major among hundreds is no small task, and it can often feel like an overwhelmingly important decision.
But not so fast. First, remember that entering school as an “undecided,” “undeclared,” or “exploratory” student isn’t such a bad thing. You can devote your first year on campus to core requirements and take a wide variety of classes that interest you. Some colleges allow students to pursue ‘trial majors,’ or audit classes of interest, allowing you to take courses in an area of study without making the commitment to the major. Waiting to declare your major gives you time to explore your interests and develop a better understanding of your skills and career options.
Next, remember that many college graduates pursue careers that are not related to their majors. That’s not to say the decision isn’t an important one, only that choosing one major does not close the door on all other options later down the road.
A good number of college seniors begin the decision making process early. Many high schools have dual enrollment programs which allow students to earn college credits while still in high school. It’s a great idea to take advantage of these programs as they may ultimately save you time and money in the long run. Also, while you’re still at your comparatively small high school, don’t hesitate to talk to a school guidance counselor or reach out for advice from professionals in the careers that interest you. Your combined efforts may help you realize you aren’t as suited for that career in criminal justice as you are in, let’s say, educational psychology. Trying on a few hats now may make it easier to choose a major later.
There are a few factors to consider when entering college without a declared major. For one thing, if you have a general idea where your interests lie, you might consider declaring a major anyway. You can always change it later! Let’s say you want a career in the sciences and you’re simply not sure which field exactly. In this case, declaring any science major you find interesting will likely not limit your options later down the road, and since your school likely requires the same core classes to start for each of them, doing so may help add focus to your course load.
However, if you are one of the many students torn between options as far apart as art history and pre-forensic chemistry, then your first year should be spent exploring these areas of study and working with a career counselor to narrow your focus. In this situation especially, it may be better to consider a smaller university or community college. Not only will this offer cost savings, (many community colleges cost no more than $2,000 a semester, full-time) but the smaller number of enrolled students per advisor means you also get a greater level of individual attention, which at this point in your college career may be worth the trade-offs of a larger institution. You can always transfer schools at a later date when you have a major in mind.
When you are researching colleges though, be sure the college is accredited. You don’t want to transfer from one college to another only to find out the college courses you already have won’t count toward a degree. Additionally, when looking for careers, be sure to check out a career’s growth rate and salary. If there is little to no growth rate you may have difficulty finding employment upon graduation. One way to find a career’s growth rate is to view the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook. Simply search for the career you are interested in and you will receive a snap shot of the median yearly salary along with the projected growth rate.
Finally, don’t feel like you have to rush to college right away. In many cultures it’s customary to take a “gap year” to explore the world or yourself. Work a bunch of random jobs that sound cool to you. Travel. Research your options. You might also feel called to service, either through the Military, Peace Corps, or other volunteer program. There are numerous paths leading from your door and limitless opportunities to take side roads along the way. Choose a place to start, try to remain open to other possibilities, and make sure you enjoy the journey.