Applying to college as an undeclared major

Ready to apply to college but not sure what you want to major in? Read on to find out the benefits of applying to college as an undeclared major.

Students walk under a pedestrian walkway on campus, many wearing backpacks

Applying to college as an undeclared major

Ready to apply to college but not sure what you want to major in? Read on to find out the benefits of applying to college as an undeclared major.

Students walk under a pedestrian walkway on campus, many wearing backpacks

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 30 percent of students change their major at least once in college, and 10 percent of students  change majors more than once.

Sometimes students make small changes in their majors, like going from general business to a finance major, but many times, students make a complete change, going from engineering to graphic design or museum studies. These changes are prompted by students identifying a new interest, better understanding themselves, learning more about other majors or career opportunities, and finding clarity in their personal or career goals.

What this all really means is that many students entering college aren’t as sure about their major as they appear AND that is OKAY!

It's okay to apply as an undeclared major

  1. Lots of students start college with undeclared majors. Every year between 8-10 percent of the incoming class at the University of Nevada Reno starts out as exploratory (that's what we call undecided majors). This is not just true here, but true at all universities that allow students to be exploratory majors. You are not alone in this journey and by identifying as undeclared, you will find other students who are going through a personal journey just like you.  
  2. You are more likely to finish and to finish in a timely way. According to studies completed by EAB, a national education research firm that analyzes student data from across the nation, students who start off undeclared are not only more likely to graduate, but are also more likely to graduate closer to the four-year timeline. These studies hypothesize that this is because once exploratory students decide on a major, they are less like to switch majors again, have laid out specific goals, and are ready to focus on their chosen major.
  3. You can better understand yourself and your goals. Being an undecided major allows you to participate in various activities that give you the opportunity to better understand yourself and narrow your academic, and personal goals. Students who are undeclared might begin college with a broad goal in mind; however, as they begin self-exploration and become familiar with the university and the many degree programs offered, their goals shift and possibly narrow to help them be more successful in their chosen major.

How to decide on a major

  1. Meet with your advisor. During this appointment, be honest about your thoughts and share your various major or career interests. Your advisor is knowledgeable about all the programs on campus and will make recommendations based on your interests. At the University of Nevada, Reno, our exploratory advisors are eager to meet with you when you enroll. 
  2. Participate in programs such as ExplorationFIT or college success courses. Each college campus has an exploratory option, whether that is a college success course, a program such as the University of Nevada, Reno's ExplorationFIT, or scheduled meetings to discuss possible majors. Participate! And don't just participate, but be an actively engaged student. Programs like this are only good if you are putting in your full effort to better understand yourself and majors that are available. 
  3. Use your general education requirements to better understand different topics. Your advisor can help you build a course schedule that works with multiple majors. This means that a course that satisfies a general education requirement could also be used to satisfy a major requirement. This way, you will stay on track for graduation while at the same time exploring various majors.
  4. Visit the Career Studio. Visit the Career Studio or your institution's career development office. This will allow you to investigate a variety of different career options and gain additional insight into job responsibilities and different work environments.  

Checklist for undeclared majors

  1. Use your general education requirements to explore disciplines you are interested in.
  2. Make sure you know the deadline to declare a major, as most institutions require you to declare once you have earned a certain number of credits.
  3. Don’t do this alone! Talk to your advisor, talk to your peers, or talk to your network and explain your concerns.

Being an exploratory major is an amazing opportunity to explore your institution and get to know yourself! Allow yourself this opportunity to find the best fit for you.

Emilly Borthwick-WongDr. Emilly Borthwick-Wong serves as the Executive Director of University Advising for the University of Nevada, Reno. She has been working in higher education for 18 years, in academic advising, diversity and inclusion, as well as career development. Her career has included roles at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Northern Arizona University. Her research focuses on community building and the retention of Native Hawaiian students. She loves supporting students in identifying their goals and reaching them. 

Kara SpracklinKara Spracklin has been part of the Exploratory and Pre-Professional Advising Center (EPAC) team since 2016. She currently serves as a Coordinator for Exploratory and General Studies advising. She received a Master’s of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) in 2015. After graduation, Kara continued advising with the College of Education where she assisted students who were pursuing a degree in HDFS, Elementary Education, or Secondary Education. In 2016, Kara began her full-time advising position with the EPAC office, assisting Exploratory and General Studies students with major exploration, goal setting, and degree planning. As an academic advisor, Kara likes to use a student-centered approach to foster students’ academic and professional success. She enjoys guiding, mentoring, and helping her students reach their personal, professional, and educational goals!  

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