The Definition of an Undecided or Undeclared Major

Don't be fooled: 'Undecided' isn't necessarily a bad thing

University student sitting at desk with hand on chin
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You've probably heard the term "undecided major" (also referred to as an "undeclared major") tossed around in a conversation about going to college or choosing a career path. In reality, "undecided" isn't actually a major at all — you're not going to get a diploma with the word printed on it. The term is a placeholder. It indicates a student has yet to declare the degree they plan to pursue and hope to graduate with. (Reminder: Your major is what your degree is in. So if you're an English major, you graduate from college with an English degree or a Bachelor of Arts in English.) 

Fortunately, even though the term sounds somewhat wishy-washy, being an "undecided major" isn't necessarily a bad thing in college. Eventually, you'll have to settle on a degree you'd like to earn and make sure you're taking the required curriculum, but many schools allow you use your early terms to explore.

Undecided: Before College

When you're applying to schools, many (if not most) institutions will ask what you're interested in studying and/or what you'd like to major in. Some schools are pretty strict about knowing your major before applying for admission; they'll make you declare your major before you even enroll and simply don't accept undeclared majors. Don't freak out if you haven't chosen a career path before you've graduated high school. Other institutions are more lenient and might even look favorably upon an "undeclared" student as someone who is open to learning about new things before committing to one course of study. 

Of course, you'll want to have some idea what you want to do before you choose a school: You'll want to make sure your college of choice has strong offerings in your area of study, otherwise you might not get what you need from your education. On top of that, college can be very expensive, and if you're thinking about pursuing a career that doesn't pay very well, it may not be a good idea to take out student loans to attend a pricey institution. While you certainly don't have to commit right away, don't overlook the importance of incorporating your career ambitions into your school choice.

How to Go From Undecided to Declared

Once you arrive at college, you'll likely have two years before you have to decide your major. Most schools require you declare your major by the end of your sophomore year, meaning you have quite a bit of time to take classes in different departments, explore your interests, try something new and possibly fall in love with a topic you never thought about before. Being an undeclared major doesn't have to indicate you aren't really interested in anything; it can actually indicate that you're interested in a lot of things and want to be deliberate about making your choice.

The process of declaring a major varies by school, but you'll probably want to sit down with an academic adviser or go to the registrar's office to figure out what you need to do to make it official and plan your courses. Remember: You're not necessarily stuck with what you choose. Changing your major isn't a decision to take lightly — it could affect your graduation plans or financial aid — but knowing you have options could take some of the pressure off your decision.