Going to College Undecided?

Parents are often concerned when their child is undecided about what they want to study in college. My response: it’s a good thing!

According to a national survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), approximately 33% of first-year college students in the United States change their major at least once within three years of enrollment. Other studies have reported similar findings, with estimates ranging from 20% to 80% of college students changing their major at some point during their undergraduate studies.

Interestingly, students who are undeclared or undecided about their major can often graduate faster than those who go in with a major. While this may seem counterintuitive, students who go to college with a declared major often discover that they are not interested in or passionate about their chosen field of study and may decide to switch majors. This can result in additional coursework and time required to complete the new major, which can delay graduation.

On the other hand, students who enter college undeclared take a variety of courses in different fields before deciding on a major. This exploration process can help them identify their interests and strengths and ultimately choose a major that is a better fit for their goals and aspirations. Once they choose a major, they can focus on coursework and complete their degree requirements more efficiently.

My goal for high school students is less about having them decide what they want to major in before they even start college and more about getting them excited to learn new things once they are in college. To inspire them, I often share this list of unusual majors:

Puppetry – Some colleges offer programs in puppetry, which can cover topics such as puppet design, construction, and performance. This major can lead to theater, film, television, and education careers. (University of Connecticut)

Ethical Hacking – This major is focused on the study of computer systems and how to identify and prevent cyber attacks. Graduates may work in information security, law enforcement, or consulting. (Northeastern University)

Comedy Writing and Performance – This major combines writing and performance skills to create comedic content for various mediums, such as television, film, and theater. Graduates may work as comedy writers, performers, or producers. (Columbia College Chicago)

Adventure Education – This major teaches students about outdoor leadership, group dynamics, and experiential learning. Graduates can work as outdoor educators, wilderness guides, or adventure program coordinators. (Springfield College)

Turfgrass Science – This major focuses on the science and management of turfgrass, including golf courses, sports fields, and parks. Graduates can work in turf management, golf course design, construction, or research and development. (Penn State)

Viticulture and Enology – This major covers the science and business of grape growing and winemaking, including soil science, grapevine physiology, and wine production. Graduates can work as winemakers, vineyard managers, or wine industry consultants. (UC Davis)

Medical Illustration – This major combines art and science to create visual representations of medical concepts, such as anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Graduates can work as medical illustrators, animators, or educators. (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Astrobiology – This major combines the study of biology, astronomy, and geology to explore the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Graduates can work in research, education, or space exploration. (Florida Institute of Technology)

While my students are unlikely to major in any of these areas, just knowing such options exist helps them think expansively about, and get excited for, all of the academic opportunities in college.