Tips for College Freshmen: Thriving as an Undecided Student
Starting college as an undecided student can be daunting. You may feel that you’re already behind on your four-year degree progress or you may be worried about fitting in on campus. You also may be unsure of how to explore the majors offered at your school and the career outcomes they lead to.
Understand that you are far from alone. An estimated 20‑50% of students enter college undecided, while an estimated 75% report having changed their major at least once. And at most institutions, students have access to a wealth of resources they can use to narrow down a major. Here are four ways that you can make the most of your first year as an undecided major.
1. Explore Your Academic Passions
Many students think of their college major as a gateway to their desired career path. While this is true, it’s also important to remember that figuring out what to major in in college begins with finding your academic passions. Luckily, the first year of college is often based around exploration. We recommend taking a wide variety of general education courses. General education courses are broad, introductory classes students are required to take before the begin their academic major. (Some examples may include Introduction to Psychology, Introduction to English, Introduction to Sociology, etc.) Choosing a wide range of general education allows you not only to complete those early requirements, but it also gives you the opportunity to explore academic disciplines you might not have experienced yet. If something catches your attention, you can reach out to that course’s professor and request more information about the associated major.
2. Work with an Academic Advisor
Because the undecided major often lacks a concrete degree plan, some undecided students become concerned about their degree progress timetable. For example, you may worry about taking the wrong classes and prolonging your degree progress beyond the typical four-year graduation. This is why it is imperative that you meet with an academic advisor as early as possible. Under the guidance of an advisor, you can explore your school’s college major list and the degree plans for majors you’re contemplating, as well as ensure that you’re taking courses that will apply to any major you end up choosing.
3. Find a Sense of Belonging on Campus
Academic major is a major point of identification within the first few weeks of college. Majors are used to divide students at orientation and within their residence halls and they also serve as a conversational “ice breakers” when meeting new people. So as an undecided student, it’s normal to worry that you won’t fit in on campus. Fortunately, there are many ways to get involved on campus, meet new people, and find a sense of place. First, colleges often offer social events — especially during the first week of the semester. These may include “welcome week” types of events in which students (and sometimes faculty and staff) can eat and participate in fun activities together, movie nights, de-stress events, and more. Many colleges also offer extracurricular clubs and organizations like student government and intramural sports. Finally, if you’re living on campus we strongly recommend getting involved with your residence hall’s community. This might include attending floor meetings, becoming part of a residential hall association, becoming a resident advisor (RA), or even coordinating your suitemates for a trip to the dining hall.
4. Utilize Career Advising
Although your academic passions are important, students contemplating a major understandably want to know about the career outcomes of their potential field. What are the highest paying majors? What are the most in-demand majors? How robust is the job market for the occupations associated with a potential major? You can get answers to these questions, and many others, by working with your school’s Career Development office. A career advisor can help you discern what professions correspond to certain majors, how to reliably search for the average salaries and market demand for those professions, and walk you through a career assessment (such as FOCUS-2) that link your personality, skills, and values to career options. This information should help you further narrow down what to major in.
Entering college as an undecided student can be confusing — and for good reason. But being undecided doesn’t mean you can’t take full advantage of your college experience. Remember to use the many academic and career-related resources offered at your institution, get involved socially, and be open-minded about your academic interests. For more tips for college freshmen and undecided students, you may request more information online.