How to Pick a College as an Undecided Major

For some students, the college search is simplified by a clear and firm vision of a future career or professional path. If you’ve spent your childhood dreaming of becoming a doctor, an artist, or a social worker, your college search will naturally be focused on schools that provide strong programming in your area of interest.

 

For other students, though, the path remains unclear. If this is you, don’t worry about it. There are literally millions of students who arrive to college each year with an undecided major, and even many who graduate with a major yet still don’t quite know what they want to be “when they grow up”.

 

While your college search might be slightly less focused in terms of academic program offerings, it doesn’t have to be any less focused on the dozens of other priorities that you’ll consider when choosing a college. To learn how to pick a college as a undecided major, don’t miss this post.

Look For Schools With a Breadth of Programs

If you’re not entirely sure what path you want to pursue, try focusing on schools that provide a little of everything. Many schools offer liberal arts programs that touch on classes in every subject area. This breadth of knowledge will serve you well, even when you eventually focus in on a single career path. After all, everyone uses core skills like math and English throughout their daily lives.

 

In addition to liberal arts schools, you might check out schools that offer a number of different professionally focused paths in general subject areas that are of interest to you. If you’re interested in science but haven’t chosen a specific track yet, look at schools that offer a broad variety of programs within the subject area. These could include engineering, physical therapy, pharmacy, or even premed. This way, you don’t close any potential doors in your subject areas of interest.

 

Consider Schools with Later Major Declaration Dates

At some point during your college career, you will have to declare a major—the decision can’t be put off indefinitely. At some colleges, however, you don’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. Choosing a school like this allows a little more time for exploration before you need to focus in on a single area of study.

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Putting off your major declaration can actually be a really smart choice. Even students who think that they have a clear idea of their career path as early as high school might find more exciting options as they explore collegiate course offerings. In fact, a study published by the journal Inside Higher Ed that students who declare their majors late or even change majors during college have a higher graduation rate than those who declare early.

 

In light of this study, some colleges are actually changing how students declare their majors. At Georgia State University, students now select a “meta major” before focusing on an actual major. A meta major is essentially a broad subject area in which students take classes that will eventually count towards a more specific major.

 

For example, a student who wants to become an accountant would enroll in the business meta major and take classes that lead towards a career in business. If that student later decided he or she would rather work in management, the classes accrued in the business meta major would still count towards his or her new track. This change has led to 32 percent decrease in the number of major changes among undergraduates at the University, so it’s clear that delaying a major declaration might indeed be a smart thing to do.

 

Explore Open Curriculum Schools

Open curriculum schools are schools without a core curriculum, meaning that there are no mandatory courses outside of your major requirements (there may, however, be a single freshman seminar requirement to focus on developing college writing skills). Often at these schools, students are also allowed to wait until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major. 

 

In this way, students have much more control over the classes they choose to take. This is a relatively new trend in higher education and reflects the broadening skills often required in a workplace.

 

Of course, there are still some requirements that will drive your course selections if you choose an open curriculum school. For one, you’ll still need complete your major requirements. If you don’t, some open curriculum schools may grant you a bachelor’s degree in “Liberal Arts,” but not majoring in any subject is still seen as a last resort; you are expected to major in something. At these schools, you will also to still need meet prerequisites to take upper level classes. That means you’ll have to take introductory classes in certain subject areas in order to advance. 

 

If you’re interested in schools that offer an open curriculum program option, here is a list to get you started. Some schools are not totally open curriculum, but offer more freedom than most. Those technicalities are noted in parentheses:

 

Amherst College

Brown University

Hamilton College

Hampshire College

University of Rochester (must take 3 courses in 2 fields outside of your major)

Smith College

Vassar College (has a foreign language and quantitative course requirement)

Wake Forest University (has a special open curriculum program, but not for all undergraduates)

Wesleyan University

 

Consider Your Other Priorities

Finally, keep in mind that your future major or career path is only one small part of how you choose a college. Ultimately, your own experiences and your education beyond college will do more to shape your future career than your college major.

 

As such, there are many other priorities that you will want to consider when choosing a college. These might include things like geographic location, class sizes, extracurricular offerings, student services, and more.

 

To learn more about the other factors you should consider when choosing a college, check out these CollegeVine posts:

 

Choosing a College: How to Get Started

Seven Tips for Creating Your College List

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Your College List

10 Considerations For Making Your College List

 

If you’d like some more help focusing in on potential majors or career paths, or choosing a college without a firm plan for the future, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.