College x

Ask yourself these five questions to help you go from undecided to declared.

Image via Happy Student Life

It’s the conversation-starter that everyone uses once they know what college you’ll be attending.  “What do you plan on studying?” or the similar, “What are you majoring in?”

For some people, the answer is a quick and easy “Psychology” or “Finance” or “Political Science.” But, for other people, the question brings with it a moment of unease, of uncertainty. “I’m not sure yet,” they say. “I’m undecided.”

Ah, undecided. While it may seem scary to you right now, fear not. First of all, remember that you’re not alone. According to surveys, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as undecided, and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation. So, while you may feel alone as an enrolled, undecided student, you’re far from it. Plenty of your peers who think that they know what they want to study will change their minds, maybe multiple times, before settling on a discipline.

And second of all, you shouldn’t worry because I am here to help you choose a major, or at least get you on the right path to picking one, with these five questions you should ask yourself when going from undecided to declared.

1. What are you passionate about?

Surprised passion is the first topic on this list? You shouldn’t be. How could you spend four years at college studying a field that doesn’t even interest you? So, if you’re not sure what it is that you’re interested in or passionate about, I suggest you take a look back at the courses you liked in high school and the clubs and activities you spent your time doing.

For some people, like myself, that passion is evident throughout high school.  For example, I took several writing electives, spent a summer as an editorial intern for a magazine, applied to and enrolled in a journalism program and joined the literary magazine clubs at school all before applying to college. When it was time for me to select an intended major, I decided to go with English, since it was something that, based on my high school interests, I was definitely passionate about. But, even if I had applied undecided, once I got to college, English would probably have been the first major I would have explored.

Obviously, not every student will have a singular academic passion that is evident from their resume and high school course-load. In fact, most students probably won’t. But it can be a good starting point for students who are at college and don’t know what they’re interested in. Or, if you’re at college and really enjoy a particular activity or class, consider majoring in a related field.

Love writing for the school paper? Maybe an English or Journalism major is right for you.  Enjoy that Spanish class you took to fulfill a requirement? Consider pursuing a major or minor in the language. Keep an open mind; you’ll find something you’re passionate about, even if you don’t know what that something is by the end of your freshman year of college. Which leads me to my next question to ask yourself.

2. Have you explored your options?

If you have no idea what it is you want to study—or even if you think you know what your passion is—exploring your options is crucial to making the right choice when it comes to picking a major. Many colleges help you out with this by assigning students general requirements. These frequently can be broken down into a math requirement, a writing requirement, a language requirement, etc., but range greatly from school to school. These force you to take classes that you may not have considered taking before or that push you outside of your comfort zone.

Image via Cornell

Of course, not every university has general requirements, so the onus is on the individual students to take courses that are diverse. Especially your freshman year, you should take a variety of courses across different disciplines.

So you never did any activities relating to chemistry but always liked the subject? Give it a try at the college level. You think an economics course sounds like it could be cool even though you never had anything like it in high school? Go for it. Always been more of a humanities kid but like the sound of studying computer science? Why not test it out with an introductory course.

After giving yourself a little taste of different, potential majors, you can begin narrowing down the diversity of your courses and begin to focus more on a specific major you may be interested in and taking more in-depth courses for that major to see if it’s your thing.

3. Do you have a vocational goal?

What’s important to remember here is that there are many careers for which a number of undergraduate majors would be appropriate. You plan on going to law school and becoming a lawyer? Feel free to pursue any relevant passion as an undergraduate student: Political Science, English, History, Economics, Philosophy, etc. Interested in going pre-med? You have the freedom to major in Biology, Chemistry, Physics or even Liberal Arts, depending on the institution you plan on going to for medical school.

You can also think about it the other way around. For example, I knew I loved writing, so my English major makes sense for several writing careers I could pursue down the road—being a journalist, working in publishing, editing, etc.  If you know you want to do something long-term that’s very quantitative and involves numbers, consider exploring majors like Math, Economics, Engineering, Physics or other calculation-heavy disciplines.

4. Are you good at this subject?

Your skill in the subject shouldn’t necessarily be the main determining factor on whether you pursue a major in that field, but it is a relevant piece of information to consider when making your decision. For example, if you decide to become, say, a Creative Writing major, but you are not a strong writer and do not receive positive feedback in class or high grades on stories you write with multiple professors, then it might mean that you should try your hand at a different subject.

Likewise, if you’re having trouble picking a favorite subject to major in but know that you’re really good at Computer Science and it’s something, among other subjects, that you enjoy, it might be a good idea to consider majoring in something you already have proven skill in. And besides, people tend to enjoy doing things that they are good at anyway.

5. Why do you want to be in this major?

Reflecting on why you want to pursue your potential major is an important step in going from undecided to declared. You should research the major at your university. It is also a good idea to get in touch with professors in your chosen department and with students who have declared that major as their own and can provide some further insight.

Imagine what you would do with that major. Think about if you would enjoy writing a thesis paper or doing a project on the subject. Consider why you like the subject and what you like about it. Picking a major is an important decision; hopefully by reflecting on why you want to study a potential subject, you will find some clarity and be able to go from undecided to declared.

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