The Truth About Being Undeclared

Being undeclared in college is incredibly misunderstood. Incoming freshmen find it terrifying, those with majors think it’s lazy (if they even know what it is), and family members often see it as a death knell of a successful college career. But none of them are right. As someone who spent two years undeclared at a major public university, I can tell you firsthand what it’s really like to be an undeclared student, and I’ll be honest – some of it isn’t great. You’ll know, the whole time you’re undeclared, that you have a huge decision to make, and that can be stressful. But when you choose a major after you’ve already arrived on campus and taken some classes, you’re making a much more informed decision about your future than your peers have, and that can pay off in the long run. Want a little more detail? Read on for the truth about being undeclared.

The Truth About Being Undeclared

Not having a major can be stressful, but it can also be the key to a happy future. Learn the truth about being undeclared.

You’re braver than you think.

If you’re in college, you’re probably part of a very particular system of achievement. You spent high school getting good grades and doing extracurriculars so you could get into a good college, to get a good degree (in a good subject), to make good money, because that’s clearly the only path to success (or so we’ve been told). Whether it’s actually true is neither here nor there – modern students are under a huge amount of pressure to make very important decisions pretty early in their lives, and often without a whole lot of guidance. Choosing a school at 18 is hard enough, but choosing your entire life path before you even step onto campus? To me, that doesn’t just sound impossible, it sounds insane. If you’re undeclared, you deviated from that path. You’re taking a step to the side to gain some clarity on your life and how you want it to progress. And that takes some guts.

Your gen-eds will probably be awesome.

For people with a set major, choosing general education classes is often influenced by their major – they’ll take something that fulfills their needed credit and ties into their program. But for the undeclared student? It’s a field day, and a great way to explore different fields of study. Before I declared my major, I tried a bunch of things. I took an astronomy course, a biology course on dinosaurs and extinction, and a journalism course focused entirely on the First Amendment – all classes I never would have thought to take had I been an English major from the start. My language history and computer science gen-eds also led me to loving two new subjects, and linguistics and informatics are now my minors. Use those gen-eds to do something awesome, like study dinosaurs and stars, or explore your options.

Being undeclared is an opportunity. What other student is going to learn public speaking, Newton's Laws, and the truth about modern slavery in one semester?

Being undeclared is an opportunity. What other student is going to learn public speaking, Newton’s Laws, and the truth about modern slavery in one semester?

Your family will bother you about it.

It’s only because they want the best for you, but if your family is anything like mine, they’re going to bother you about choosing a major. Which seems fair, since getting a degree is kind of the point of college. So I tried to take my mother asking about it every time I called home as a sign of love, but it does get a little tiring after a while. Extended family members are worse, because they always forget you’re undeclared, and then decide they can probably find you a major at the family cookout. Cue your uncle reading off a list of the most profitable careers and you rolling your eyes because you don’t want to run an oil rig, no matter how much money you’d make. (Unless you do want to run an oil rig, in which case, good luck and have fun.)

Your friends won’t get it.

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by intelligent, driven people, and a lot of them just couldn’t wrap their heads around me not having a five- or ten-year-plan worked out just yet. To really driven people with clear goals, not having a focus for your education can seem like not having a focus on your education, but you and I both know that’s not true. There are always going to be people in your life who don’t understand your choices, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re judging you for them. Some of your friends will understand, so treasure them, and turn to them for a break when you’re feeling stressed about your major.

(Unless they’re also undeclared.)

No one quite gets that feeling of constant, low-level panic you live with like another undeclared person. You’ll find each other pretty easily, with all the “choosing a major” workshops you’ll be invited to. And let me tell you, these friend can be solid gold. When someone makes an offhand remark about your lack of major, you can turn towards your undeclared friend and stare at them like they’re the camera in The Office, and they’ll know exactly how you feel. After all, they were probably in the same situation four days ago.

Another perk of being undeclared? Your peers will be easy to recognize due to the terrible puns on their free t-shirts.

Another perk of being undeclared? Your peers will be easy to recognize due to the terrible puns on their free t-shirts. I should have ironed this, sorry guys.

Some people will be jealous.

This is the part that no one tells you about being undeclared. A lot of people, especially a lot of freshmen, hate their majors. A friend of mine went into college with a public policy major, hoping to become a lawyer. Unfortunately, that public policy major made her a part of our college’s agriculture program, and she spent her freshman year in required classes about farming that she hated before being allowed to transfer. After freshman year, a fear of family rejection, loss of opportunity, or the feeling that it’s “too late” to change inspire a lot of people to keep studying things they aren’t passionate about. And then there’s you. You still have the freedom to choose, and that’s a freedom a lot of your fellow students would love to get back.

You’ll figure it out.

I don’t mean that you’ll find the perfect major out of the blue, but don’t get discouraged. Between your natural bravery and the interesting things you’re studying, you’re very likely to find something you’d love. And if you’re having a hard time, you’ve got a support system of friends and family to fall back on for encouragement and ideas. But don’t underestimate the power of your actual school in helping you find a major. If you like a professor or TA, talk to them about their subject for ideas. Getting you through college is literally your adviser’s job, and they’re also literally professionals at helping you figure out your life. You have a lot more resources than you might think, so take advantage of them instead of panicking.

Not having a major can be stressful, but it can also be the key to a happy future. Learn the truth about being undeclared.

How do you relate to being undeclared? Did you choose your major right away? Were you happy with it? If you didn’t choose right away, share any advice I left out in the comments!

  • Some people find what they love on the first try, and that’s awesome! I also think it’s really normal to question yourself on whether you want to do the same thing forever. The nice thing about a college degree, though, is that it can be as flexible as you are – I’m sure you’ll find a way to do everything you love!
    Thanks for the feedback!

  • Hey Megan! I chose my major right away, and so far, I like what I’m doing. The bad thing about immediately jumping in, though, is the little thought that says, “Are you SURE you want to do this for the rest of your life?”
    You’re so right that your major affects the classes you chose for general education. Having more time and freedom to explore is a great way of thinking about being undeclared 🙂