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Mental Health

Why It’s Perfectly Okay to be Undeclared in College

The reason I’m writing this article is simple: I came into college undeclared. Not only that, but I remained unsure of my major for the entire school year and halfway through my time as a sophomore. It didn’t significantly worsen my time in college. In fact, I had a rather lovely freshman year (besides catching mono, Shafer roaches and other general unavoidable life stressors). However, as time passed, I did notice a slight difference between me and those I was surrounded with. The first questions generally asked when meeting people in college are along the lines of “What’s your name? How was your day? What year are you? What are you studying?” If you had a specific answer to the last question, then the conversation would most likely go one of two ways. If your partner finds something interesting about that field of study, happens to be studying the same thing, or is simply an unusually good conversationalist, then chances are the discussion would continue to flow in an easy and enjoyable manner. This being until you either ran out of academic similarities or found other ways of bonding.

However, if you don’t happen to have a major, there’s no real way of responding to this question beyond, “Oh. Actually, I’m undeclared.” Strangely enough, I’ve found that the person will more often than not respond with an “Oh… well, what do you want to major in?” Beyond always finding this to be a strange follow-up question (if I knew I’m fairly sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation), I’ve never really had a satisfactory answer. At points, I would even make up responses for the sake of my own entertainment and ways of continuing the conversation. These could branch from the truth (“I have no idea please send help” to complete and utter lies (“general health studies with a concentration in rat nutrition. Pre-med as well, of course”). 


classrooom and students with a projector
NeONBRAND on Unsplash

As silly as this all may seem, one of the things I didn’t realize that I needed (but certainly did) was someone telling me that it was perfectly okay to undeclared. Although logically, I did know this to be the case, I felt strangely out of place. Part of me believed I was just indecisive and incomplete in comparison to those around me. It took a while to come to terms with not knowing exactly what I was doing and being okay with it, but eventually, I did. However, prior to this, there were always lingering doubts and discontent in the back of my mind. So, this article is dedicated to not only telling those who are undeclared that they are perfectly okay to be so, but that it can be an actively good thing. 

The average college student switches their major about three times during their educational career. 80% of college students switch their major at least once. And yet, for some unexplainable reason, this is still seen as more acceptable (and generally normalized)l than simply not having made a decision yet. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with switching a major, I fully understand the impulse. However, it is essentially the same as being undeclared in that you go from studying a certain topic (or no topic) to something completely different. Although there are technicalities, an end result involving having to start over in collecting credits is the same. Adding or switching majors also generally increases the time and money necessary to fuel someone’s student career. This switch could be made less common if more people would just give themselves sufficient time to make the initial decision of declaring a major. In turn, this could be advantageous in academic and financial aspects.  

Many students come into college with a major in mind that they believe they either wish to study or that their parents want them to pursue. However, this may not be the best option for them. In general, people seem to come to this realization halfway through sophomore year after they’ve already amassed a large number of credits in their specified field, making any switch to another major likely to extend their time in college. Coming in without having officially declared gives you the time necessary to find out for yourself what YOU really want to go into.


empty classroom with wooden chairs and desks
Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Being undeclared also opens up opportunities that may not be actively available to those who are. For example, during my freshman year, I received weekly emails that detailed activities around campus geared towards assisting those who may need some extra help in finding what they were really passionate about and interested in. I even took a class fully dedicated to helping students find a major. Although open to everyone, I remember undeclared students being (understandably) the main populace. You also have the option of taking a wider variety of classes (as your advisor won’t push you to go for specific major requirements), which could help in ultimately making the right decision. 

These are just a few examples as to why declaring a major is perfectly fine for some people, but shouldn’t be seen as the only option for those coming into college. I just think it’s really important for everyone to be fully aware that being undeclared doesn’t translate to being indecisive, unmotivated, or lacking in direction. Instead, I always viewed it as being in the process of finding my way; I just hadn’t officially shared it with the world yet. Just as importantly, those who are currently undeclared should know and feel that it is okay to stay that way for a bit. Perhaps this is the best option for you. You are doing nothing wrong. In fact, being undeclared could be the start of a path that results in you doing everything just right. So there, because I know I really needed to hear this my freshman year. 

 

Emma Ostenfeld is currently a Junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying psychology. She is interested in creative (or any other form) of writing and has joined Her Campus in order to improve her skills and experience in this field. Originally from NOVA, she loves everything about living in Richmond Except that she had to leave her three cats at home and misses them dearly. She loves her friends but is enough of an introvert that alone time is a necessity for the sake of her mental health and the sanity of those around her. She is an extreme foodie and always appreciates any restaurant recommendations.
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