For many students, the easiest and often the first choice that appeals to them on the list of college major options is ‘undeclared.’ There are at least two major reasons why that is often not the best selection to make.
Limited Availability. Students may not realize that ‘undeclared’ is considered a major, and as such colleges have a limited number of seats to offer an incoming class, just as they would any other departmental major. In addition, if a student weighs in as ‘undecided’ some colleges may use one of their most rigorous majors to assess the strength of a student’s application.
College Essays. For many students the question of what major to select arises when they are writing essays for colleges. Many colleges ask students questions like “Why did you select the major you did and why do you want to study that subject at our college?” One of the most popular of our east coast schools asks applicants the following questions: “What academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Why do these areas appeal to you?” You can list up to 3 subjects and you have 100 words to respond. A trap students fall into is thinking with only 100 words to write, it is a cinch, right? It’s not—the shorter the prompt, the more you need to write a well-thought, concise and compelling response.
Many of my clients are uncertain about what major they wish to pursue in college. Since I know these types of essay questions come up all the time, when students apply to colleges, I prepare students well before the application cycle begins by exploring their natural aptitudes coupled with their areas of interest. So what should seniors do right now who are grappling with these kinds of questions? For them, I recommend two fairly straight-forward strategies:
1. Take a different approach to thinking about a major. Is there a class you would really like to take as you explore the freshman curriculum at a college? There are many introductory courses to choose from –Romantic Poetry through the Ages (English Department); Exploring Your Inner Picasso! (Art Department), Making Important Business Decisions (Business Department) and The Physics of Rollercoaster Rides (Physics Department). Read the course descriptions and choose one that really appeals to you. Then consider choosing that department as your major. This approach allows you to test an academic direction early enough in your college career to change course and also gives you some foundation upon which to answer those pesky essay questions. Remember, you can change your mind. In fact, at most colleges, changing your major is as easy as completing a simple form; 80% of students change their major at least once in their college careers.
2. Explore the many resources available to think about what major you would like to pursue in college. For example, the Book of Majors, published by CollegeBoard, can help you answer questions like: What’s the right major for me? Where can I study it? What can I do with it after graduation?
The Book of Majors is revised every year, and is the most comprehensive guide to college majors that I have found on the market. It is also available online. It offers in-depth descriptions of 200 of the most popular majors, and the 2018 edition covers every college major identified by the U.S. Department of Education – over 1,200 majors in all. The Book of Majors shows what degree levels each college offers in a major. It also features insights from the professors themselves on how each major is taught, what preparation students will need for a particular major and other majors to consider that share some important commonalities. There is also updated information on career options and employment prospects. It is a veritable goldmine of information and it is bookmarked for frequent use in my office!
Applying to college involves careful planning, organization, research and lots of self-assessment. The process from start to finish entails many challenges that can and should be viewed as opportunities to mature, thus laying the foundation for success in college and beyond.