Being Undeclared in College

Undeclared: the most dreaded major of any incoming college student.

Last year in high school, I vividly remember applying to colleges and checking the little white box saying “undeclared” on all of my college applications, and then uselessly agonizing over what major to choose when there was no “undeclared” box to check off.

I was really uneasy about going to college as an undeclared student, having been informed of the various stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the word. I knew them all, from “Undeclared kids have no idea what they’re doing” to “Undeclared kids are just lazy and scared of commitment.”

Extended family members and friends would ask me excitedly, “Ooh, what’s your major?” I would hesitantly reply, “I’m undeclared,” and then watch their faces deflate with my answer. “Oh, well you have time,” they would say, and just leave it at that.

But the thing that many people fail to acknowledge about undeclared students is that we have some idea of what we want to do. We have hobbies, interests, and pastimes. In my case, I’m really interested in the liberal arts and social sciences. I like drawing, taking photographs, writing, and expressing myself creatively. I enjoy learning about human interactions, politics, and how society and the world works around us. I have interests, I have ideas about what I want to do—if anything, perhaps I have too many interests; but unfortunately, this is something that tends to be widely unrecognized by others.

However, this epiphany of the idea that it is okay to be undeclared did not dawn on me until recently. Last semester, when I was a first semester freshman, I was especially anxious about being undeclared. I would stay up at night sometimes, letting my mind roll through every possible major and career path and worrying about what was “the right fit” for me—and even worrying about if maybe there was no right fit for me at all. It was hard, sometimes harder than I liked to let on.

Then one day, I went into office hours for my psychology class to ask my professor a few questions about an upcoming assignment. After  talking for a little while, the topic of being undeclared came up. What he told me was essentially along the lines of this: “I was undeclared until my school told me I had to declare. Literally, they were like, ‘If you don’t declare a major now, you can’t sign up for any more classes.’ I didn’t choose my major until I absolutely had to. I didn’t want to be tied down. Why should I have been? I was only a teenager. You’re too young to know what you want to do yet. You think people know, but they don’t. No one really knows what they’re doing.”

It would be great if I could just finish this article right here and say that this advice from my professor instantly cured my woes about being undeclared, but that is far from the truth. Truthfully, I still wonder and sometimes worry about what I will eventually major in, and I obviously still fret about the looming future, as many people do.

But another thing that provides me with a bit of solace, and another thing that my professor and other people I have talked to have mentioned, is the fact that nobody really knows what they are doing, even adults who have graduated college and may even have full-time jobs. Or worse, some adults are unhappy in their current jobs, regretting jumping into a major right away that maybe wasn’t the best fit for them, whether it be because they felt pressured by their parents or peers, or simply wanted to find a major that would magically give them a job that paid the big bucks.

This last part is going to sound incredibly cheesy, but I truly think that life is too short to be doing something that makes you unhappy, or even doing something that you are unsure about. If you are undeclared, don’t feel pressured to instantly decide. For me, I have until the beginning of my junior year to choose my major—fortunately, I have time. College is the time to learn more about yourself. There is no reason why you need to decide what you want to do when you are eighteen years old, because you have your whole life ahead of you. And most of the time, majors don’t even necessarily correlate with what job you eventually acquire. Everyone is different. It all just depends on you.