What to Know About an Undeclared Major
Apr 20, 2022
What to Know About an Undeclared Major
As you prepare to go to college and think about how to choose a college major, you have probably heard the term undeclared major. Like many prospective students, you might have an academic interest or two, but you haven’t narrowed down a career goal enough to decide on a major. You’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, you will learn more about what it means to be an undeclared student, what some of the advantages and disadvantages are to being an undecided student, and how being undeclared can affect your academic goals.
What happens if you don't declare a major?
Can you go to college undecided? Yes. There are many points in time when a college student can declare an academic major. Prospective students can do it on their application, first year students can do it after taking a course or a few, but ultimately you don’t have to declare a major in order to enroll or start your general education courses.
Deshan Mendis wrote about what being undeclared means for Shorelight, saying, “Enrolling with an undeclared major indicates that you have not yet chosen your major and are currently exploring your options. With an undeclared major in your first year, you will usually have to enroll in general education classes in different disciplines. In addition to learning about a variety of topics, you will gain prerequisites and credits in these courses that can count toward your major after you have selected one.”
While you do all that, you should take advantage of academic advising to help you make up your mind. The advising office will normally contact you to set up a meeting, but you can also find contact information for an academic advisor in the campus directory.
Many colleges and universities offer a career exploration program, often through a university advising center, career development center, or office of career services, to help undecided students decide on a major. Programs and advisors like this can help you figure out your career options and which declared program will best ensure your student success and, eventually, your professional development.
Is it smart to go undeclared?
Let’s weigh some advantages and disadvantages.
Pros for Undeclared Majors
- Boost your GPA: Bradford Holmes and Caroline Duda wrote about a potentially big plus of starting out undeclared for U.S. News and World Report, saying, “If you have a competitive college concentration in mind, your academic profile – your GPA, in other words – will be key. If your high school GPA does not reflect your full potential and you would like to use your first year of college to correct this issue, it likely makes sense to apply as an undeclared major”
- Get a head start: Mendis wrote, “You can prepare for your desired major earlier by taking prerequisite or related courses, helping you become more familiar with your major before you officially declare your degree program.”
- Explore the space: You may not have had enough time before applying to figure out if, say, social sciences is a better path for you than going into the health profession. Being undeclared gives you time to sort out your interests and aspirations and dive deep into what your college has to offer.
- Looks better than you think: Choosing not to declare on an application can send a positive message. Admissions committees don’t necessarily expect every applicant to have their entire college career path mapped out, and they’ll appreciate that you are still curious enough to want to consider every option.
Cons for Undeclared Majors
- Might miss out on requirements: Said Holmes and Duda, “While simply being sure about what field you wish to major in does not necessarily mean that you should declare early, if that major requires a specific set of courses from freshman year on, then it is in your best interests to declare.” Sometimes a class like this will only be offered at certain times and only students with a declared major get in automatically. Even if not, declaring early will give you more chances to get in.
- Stress levels high: Exploration can be fun, but it’s also a big task. Not to mention that social and family pressure to choose a major can weigh on you and start to affect your continuing education. The sooner you decide, the sooner you can be free of that anxiety.
- Losing fringe benefits: Often, colleges will offer major-specific scholarships, financial aid, or housing you can only access if you declare.
- Harder to stand out from the crowd: Having a specific major in mind can help distinguish your application materials, so long as you have a passion for a subject and a good idea of what you want to do with it. That said, it is never worth the effort to fake enthusiasm for a major you’re not sure of.
Can you graduate with an undecided major?
The short answer is no. Eventually, you will have to declare a major and fulfill its requirements in order to graduate. But schools are flexible and becoming more and more encouraging of taking your time.
Kelci Lynn Lucier, writing for ThoughtCo, explains, “Once you arrive at college, you'll likely have two years before you have to decide your major. Most schools require you to declare your major by the end of your sophomore year, meaning you have quite a bit of time to take classes in different departments, explore your interests, try something new and possibly fall in love with a topic you never thought about before … Remember: You're not necessarily stuck with what you choose.”
One of the keys to choosing the right major is to put yourself in a supportive environment, where everyone from the student services office to the campus safety department puts you first. Look for a place like North Central College that knows the best majors for undecided students and offers all the resources you need to ensure each class in your degree program is getting you closer to exceeding your personal best.
Find out more about North Central today.
Jacob Imm is the assistant director of communications in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 12 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
Deshan Mendis, Shorelight. https://shorelight.com/student-stories/what-is-an-undeclared-major/
Bradford Holmes and Caroline Duda, U.S. News and World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/articles/pros-cons-of-applying-to-college-as-an-undecided-major
Kelci Lynn Lucier, ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-undecided-major-793120