Heading off to college is an exciting time. However, it can also be anxiety-inducing; many new college freshmen have no idea what they want to major in. And the idea of declaring a major may feel overwhelming due to the unspoken pressure to choose a career path as a teenager. Still, it’s okay—even potentially beneficial—to start college without a predetermined plan.
If you don’t know what major to choose, or you are unsure a particular field of study is for you, it might be in your best interest not to declare right away.
Here are some pros and cons of not declaring a major before or during your first year at college.
Pros of Not Declaring a Major
You might feel pressured by friends or well-meaning family members to choose a major as soon as possible. It can be awkward having to explain that you just aren’t sure. However, not declaring right away can be a smart decision.
Freedom to Explore
You may truly be undecided about what you’d like to study. Rather than hastily declare a major in an area that you’re unsure of, take some time to explore. An undecided major gives you time to take courses you may not have otherwise considered taking.
When you declare a major, your course of study may be laid out for all four years, with little wiggle room for extra academic pursuits. By remaining undeclared in your first year, on the other hand, you are free to browse the course catalog and investigate any classes that catch your eye. If you have this opportunity, try out a variety of disciplines to see if any are a good fit for you.
Many students think that declaring a major on their application improves their chances of acceptance. But if you’re unsure, don’t worry. Applying to colleges as ‘undecided’ or ‘undeclared’ does not affect your chances.
In a university podcast, Chrissy Findlay, associate dean of Admissions at Bucknell University, explained that being undeclared is not a negative. She stated she enjoys “reading the undeclared applications” and views these students as “open-minded and curious” with a “willingness to invest time to explore what inevitably interests and excites them.”
Build a Strong GPA
A declared major can make it difficult to get into competitive programs at a college, especially if your grades in high school were lower than you’d like.
For many universities, when you declare a major on your application, you are applying directly to that department. But if they only accept a limited number of students for the major, a lower GPA can hurt your chances. Applying with an undeclared major can give you time to prove yourself and your abilities at the college level.
Nonetheless, be sure to do your research on each college of interest’s rules before you make a decision—not all departments make it easy, or possible, to transfer in later on.
Cons of Not Declaring a Major
While there are many good reasons for not declaring a major the first year, you might miss out on some advantages that come with having a specific major from the get-go.
With an undecided major, you may not have the same access to all courses. Certain seats in high-enrollment classes, especially core requirements for a major, may be reserved for students who have declared. This helps ensure the students who need those classes to graduate can take the course in time.
In addition, waiting to declare a major leaves you fewer semesters to complete your required classes, with potential scheduling difficulties posing a more severe setback. If a required course is full, it can have a cascading effect on when you can take other classes.
Many colleges have special dorms for students with similar majors which are called living-learning communities. There are advantages to declaring a major and therefore gaining the chance of getting into one.
Students in living-learning communities tend to do better academically. They support one another in shared classes and activities. For freshmen and sophomores, this is a great way to build a network of friends who encourage you to be your best.
Miss Out on Some Financial Aid
Some colleges may have scholarships available only to specific departments. If you stay undeclared your first year, you won’t be eligible for them. And for students relying heavily on financial aid to attend college, every bit helps.
Declared or Undeclared: Your Decision
In the end, only you can know if declaring a major is the right thing to do.
If you are unsure about what you want to study, know that being an undeclared student won’t derail your college career. And it may even help you find a passion for a subject you never considered! Not to mention, you can talk it out with an expert to make sure you’re still on track for your goals. Set up an exploratory call with an Empowerly representative to learn more.