Should You Select a Major or Declare Undecided on Your Application?

Deciding on a major can be difficult for students who are unsure of their future academic or career goals. This article discusses when it's appropriate to remain undecided and when it's necessary to declare a major.

To Declare or to Not Declare

During their senior year, the majority of high school students start planning for college. This planning often begins with the basics, including filling out college applications that can be as confusing as they are tedious. Many students get stuck on one question in particular -- the proposed major field of study. If you're like most high school seniors, you're probably not even sure of what to do this weekend, much less what you want to study for the next four years. How do you get around this problem?

When to Declare 'Undecided'

Many colleges allow students to enter 'undecided' in the part of the application that asks for the student's chosen major. Declaring 'undecided' can be helpful because it allows you to postpone declaring a major until the end of your freshman or sophomore year, depending on the institution. Waiting to declare your major gives you time to explore your interests, ensuring that your eventual decision will be based on a real understanding of your goals and aptitudes.

If you decide against declaring a major on your application, you can check into whether your college offers any special programs for undecided students. For instance, many colleges allow students to pursue 'trial majors.' These programs let students take classes in an area of study without making the commitment to the major.

When to Declare a Major

Declaring a major is often a favorable option for students who are sure of what they want to do. You don't have to get too specific -- for example, a student may be interested in engineering but torn between the specific subfields of electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. The solution to this conundrum is easy: this student should declare one of those subjects as her major, because it's relatively simple to switch majors within the college or school of engineering. The same is true of someone whose interests are English and journalism, or political science and history.

In general, universities and colleges like applicants who demonstrate a clear sense of purpose. If you know what field you're drawn to, don't hesitate to say so. Even if you find yourself unhappy later on, you can usually change your major - particularly early in your undergraduate career - to something that better fits your interests. And isn't pursuing genuine interests what college is all about?

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