What's the Impact of Applying for College "Undecided"?

It’s good to have an idea of what you want to study, even if you don’t declare a major right away.

It’s good to have an idea of what you want to study, even if you don’t declare a major right away.

Many students attend college with an end goal in mind. “I want to attend school and graduate with a bachelor’s of science in computer engineering” for example. However unintuitive it may be, declaring a major as you apply to college could cause more harm than good.

What You Should Know

Of course, just because you apply “undecided” doesn’t mean you have no idea what you want to study. A wise student should have at least a few ideas of what their major might be and have done the research ahead of time to make sure the schools they are applying to offer what they are looking for in any department of interest.

Try to get an understanding of:

  • If the major is even offered!

  • How big the department is (while rare, some schools choose to end programs with very small departments and limited interested.)

  • What courses are required in order to get your major. Most schools will give you a potential course schedule listing which courses should be taken in which order and in which year of school. This can be referred to as your “critical path” for your major.

Knowing this information will help you make a wise decision about what colleges are the best choice for you.

Benefits of Declaring a Major

The main benefit of entering with a declared major is for students who need to take classes in a specific order to get enough credits in their desired major to graduate.

Depending on the popularity of the major, some critical path courses may only be offered once a year. If you find that the college recommends starting critical path courses in your freshman year, you may need to declare a specific major as part of your application process.

Another benefit of declaring early is your ability to apply for specific major related scholarships. If your high school or community offers scholarships to students entering a particular area of study, declaring early could lead you to increased scholarship opportunities.

Benefits of Declaring ‘Undecided’

The main benefit of applying to college as an ‘undecided’ student is to buy you more time. Maybe you have a few majors you are interested in but aren’t quite ready to commit. Maybe you know the major you wish to declare but don’t have stellar grades in high school. In these cases it will be more beneficial to apply undecided. You will usually still apply for a specific college at a large university so some of the courses you will take will apply to multiple majors.

For example, if you know you want to enter the STEM field but aren’t sure if you want to major in electrical engineering or computer engineering, you’ll still want to apply to the college of engineering at that university. This way, you will be able to take some of the lower level required courses while still giving you time to make a decision on a final major.

As alluded to above, another reason to declare ‘undecided’ is to give you a chance to get into college and beef up your grades in your area of interest. Again, using the STEM field as an example, if you didn’t do well in STEM related courses or didn’t have the opportunity to take STEM related courses in high school, getting into a specific program in college may be difficult without some more experience and the GPA to back up your interest.

Some colleges won’t let you declare a major until you’ve taken some prerequisite classes. For example, some engineering degrees will require you to take some high level mathematics classes and maintain a specific GPA before being admitted into a specific degree program.

Lastly, some students just don’t know what to major in. They understand the benefits of higher education, but want to test the waters before committing. It’s a good idea to do this as selecting a major up front and having to change later on can result in you spending another year or two at college - depending on how drastic of a change you make. Take some general electives, get out and talk to advisors in the colleges where your interests are. Talk to them about the courses you’d be taking as part of their program and ask about potential career opportunities with that type of degree. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into before committing and you’ll have a higher chance of a successful outcome.

Trouble Picking a Major?

If you are struggling to pick a major you may want to create a free College Factual account and use Majors Matcher to help you narrow down potential majors you may enjoy and excel in. If you can spare about 15-20 minutes you can give College Factual information on what subjects interest you and where your strengths lie. The end result will be a list of potential majors that maybe in alignment with your interests.