Undeclared Freshmen: When Should You Pick a Major?

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While there's a lot of pressure on freshmen to pick a college major, undeclared students are the majority. Most students enter college undeclared or change their major. Read on to learn when you need to pick a major and the best strategies for choosing a major - and future career - that you'll love.

Undeclared Freshmen

Can you remember a time when you told someone that you were headed to college that they didn't ask, ''What are you going to study?'' While most people assume that knowing your major is a foregone conclusion, choosing a major can be a complicated decision that determines your college academic experience as well as your future career path. And you're not alone! According to Central College, 75% of college students in the United States either start college as undeclared or change their major.

But when should you choose your major? And how should you navigate college before declaring one?

Senior Year of High School

Some colleges allow students to choose their majors immediately. However, if you're not sure of your academic goals, most colleges will require you to choose your major by the end of your sophomore year, so make sure that you know your school's requirements.

If your parents are freaking out that you're undeclared, they're probably concerned that taking too long to choose a major will add to the time and money it will take for you to graduate. However, there are ways to succeed as an undeclared student and learn more about your major options without adding too much time or money to your college equation.

Undeclared freshman in lecture hall class to learn more about major options

Freshman Year

Take Core Classes & Electives

Most colleges require that all students take the same basic courses, whether they're majoring in English or chemistry. As almost every college requires core classes such as math, composition and speech, start by taking those courses during your freshman year.

However, keep in mind that you'll probably want to explore some different classes to learn about the various majors. Many times, those classes will fit into your schedule, as colleges usually require students to complete a certain number of elective courses. Talk to your academic adviser to find out how your classes of interest can fit into your academic plan.

Undeclared freshman talks to academic adviser about choosing a major and academic plan

Audit Classes & Join a Club

Some colleges also allow students to audit or sit in on classes without being officially enrolled. This can be an effective way to learn more about a subject without having to commit money or credits to taking a class. Another way to learn more about a subject for free is to join a club or pursue an activity that focuses on your topic of interest, one where students can tell you more about the major and what it's like.

Conduct Research

Also, do your research. Look up majors of interest to learn more. Take a career assessment, often available online or through your college's career services. You can read more about specific degree programs or check out careers on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, which provides information about the job outlook and working conditions for your field of interest, what you'll have to study, and what key characteristics you'll need for success.

Undeclared freshman researches major options while at college

Sophomore Year: Choose Wisely, Not Quickly

While there's a concern that taking too long to decide on a major may increase the time and money involved in earning a college degree, stay open to the possibilities. According to a report by the Education Advisory Board (EAB), the average time to earn a degree holds firm for students who switch majors through the first semester of their junior year. Additionally, getting locked into a college major without considering other possibilities can be detrimental: the same report found that students who decide on their first and only major by the first semester of their freshman year actually graduate at lower rates than other students.

Consider Community College

If you can't decide on a major or type of college, consider enrolling in community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year college. This is Dan Johnston's suggestion; he's the Regional Director of Pennsylvania's Higher Education Assistance Agency. Classes at community colleges are less expensive, so taking a class that won't count toward your degree will be less of a concern. Here's the bottom line: Declare your major when you find the one that best fits your interests and goals.

Interested in learning about different subjects while exploring college majors? Study.com's online classes can help you learn more about almost any subject!

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
August 2018
college freshmen

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