Learn how to narrow your options and pick the right major as an undecided student.
Last week, I wrote about why choosing the right college major is important, and I shared a few tips to help you pick the best college major for you.
But what if you absolutely can’t decide on which major to choose? Maybe you switch back and forth by the week—or by the hour. If you’re entering college in the fall or working on your college applications this summer, being unsure about your major can be stressful.
So what about choosing an undecided college major? If you’re truly torn between multiple options, it can seem like your only choice—even if going into college undecided worries you.
You don’t want to waste your time or money. Plus, you want to have a meaningful college experience and a fulfilling career. But how can you get there if you’re an undecided major?
I absolutely understand the difficulty in choosing a college major! Sometimes starting college with an undecided major is your best option. But that doesn’t mean you want to stay undecided for long.
Keep reading to learn how to narrow down your major options before you start college, as well as how to decide the right major for you in your freshman year. Plus, I’ll share the best majors and the best colleges for undecided students.
Why having an undecided college major is stressful
A lot happens during your freshman year of college. You’re adjusting to college life, experiencing new levels of independence, and taking hard classes. All while you’re battling homesickness and trying to make new friends.
Freshman year is hard enough on its own. If you add on the pressure of figuring out your life direction—exploring the myriad of possibilities in front of you—it can quickly begin to feel like too much. Sadly, I’ve seen many undecided students buckle under the pressure and drop out.
And those undecided students who do stick it out usually continue to struggle. They switch from major to major, trying to find the right fit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Each time they switch majors, they get new advisors, new professors, and new departments to work with.
Some undecided students are able to survive it, but it’s definitely in your best interest to switch majors as few times as possible. Otherwise, you might end up pouring extra time and money into your college degree. And who wants that?
How to narrow down your major options before college
Even if you only have a few months before you start college, it’s not too late to narrow down your options and help yourself be successful with an undecided college major.
Sit down and make two lists—one of things you love to do, and the other of things you’re good at.
From the items on those two lists, identify what you can get paid to do. For instance, maybe you love to read. You could get paid to read if you become a book editor, work in publishing, or write book reviews.
Next, research from among those options what the world needs more of. Or in other words, which potential careers are growing quickly and which are declining?
Going with our previous example, you look up the job growth for book editors and realize it’s shrinking. Maybe that’s not the right career for you, so you keep looking. Reading’s not the only thing you love, after all.
Eventually you’ll identify a few careers from your lists with decent job outlooks. To further explore those career options, take a non-credit class in those subjects. Look through the courses on Skillshare and Masterclass, or audit one of Harvard’s free online classes.
Once you’ve further experimented with your career options, your next step is to connect those careers to college majors.
You can Google the best majors for each potential career. You might also think about the specific skills, experiences, and knowledge you need to be successful in those roles. Which majors can offer you those?
How to choose a college major as an undecided freshman
Hopefully you can narrow your major choices down to two or three options before you start college. But the work isn’t done. If you want to be successful in college and graduate on time, you have to hit the ground running.
Here’s what you should do.
- Take intro classes that relate to each of the majors you’re considering. Depending on your college’s registration process, you may have to advocate for yourself to get into the classes you need.
- Join clubs, groups, or societies that connect with your major interests. Deciding between psychology and business? Attend club meetings or events for both and talk to other students. What do they like and dislike about their major? What careers is it preparing them for?
- Don’t forget to seek help from the career services department. They can administer strength and interest assessments to you to help you find the majors and careers that suit you best. Plus, they can provide career counseling and help you explore possible majors.
- You’ll also want to talk to your professors, TA’s, and advisors about being undecided. They’ll have valuable input to offer. Schedule office hours or meetings and come prepared with a list of questions to ask to them. This is a good way to gain a mentor, too.
- And of course, if you still can’t decide between two different majors, think about adding a minor or double majoring. You might be extra busy fitting all your requirements in, but if you truly love both subjects, it would be worth it.
Choosing a major while you’re a college student isn’t easy. But if you put the work in and use the available college resources, you can throw aside your undecided major and land in the right subject for you.
Best majors for undecided students
If you’re unsure of your career direction, there are certain majors that will be better for you than others. For instance, don’t major in nursing or engineering if you’re on the fence about those careers. They’re ultra-specific at preparing you for those jobs.
On the other hand, there are more broad majors that will give you the skills to enter many different careers—skills employers want, such as critical thinking and communication.
Here are several majors that teach you those skills, as well as some of the careers they’ll prepare you for the best.
● Communications—screenwriter, public relations specialist, event planner, copywriter
● English—teacher, editor, technical writer, novelist
● Psychology or sociology—counselor, social worker, teacher, case worker
● Business—entrepreneur, lawyer, banker, marketer, client manager, accountant
● Biology or chemistry—researcher, biologist, chemist, conservationist, forensic scientist
● Health science—hospital administrator, public policy worker, pharmaceutical salesman
● Economics—data scientist, politician, financial analyst
The great thing about these majors is they can lead to many different careers. Meaning you don’t have to feel pressured to commit to a career just yet.
Best colleges for undecided students
Some colleges are just better than others if you have an undecided college major. For instance, some schools won’t allow you to pick “undecided” as a major at all. But others, like the University of Chicago, don’t have students declare majors before enrolling—they want you to explore before deciding.
If you’re undecided about your major, you’ll want to enroll in a college that allows you to take a lot of extracurriculars so you can explore your options. Brown University, Wake Forest University, and Vassar College are strong examples.
For the most part, smaller liberal arts colleges are best for undecided students—like Hamilton College in New York. They’ll offer you more guidance and 1:1 attention while you choose a major. If you land at a large university, you might feel lost and left to decide on your own.
And of course, before you commit to or enroll at any college, look into the specific undecided advising and mentorship programs they offer. Northeastern University’s Explore Program is an amazing example of how colleges can come alongside you and help you find the right major.
Final thoughts about having an undecided college major
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could look into the future and discover exactly what career will be most fulfilling for you? That would certainly make choosing a college major much easier!
Until that technology exists, the responsibility for choosing your career rests on you. And if you’re having trouble figuring out what to study, it’s okay. You’re not alone. Just use this advice to explore your options quickly so you can leave your undecided college major in the rearview mirror.
I’d love to hear from you! What majors are you deciding between? How do you feel about having an undecided college major?
Drop me an email at email@example.com if you need help in college major exploration.