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Applying to College with an Undecided Major

written by: RobinRaven•edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 5/14/2010

When preparing your college applications, you want everything to be right. One thing you may also want to consider is should you apply to college with a major or as undecided. There are many rumors about which one will increase your chances of acceptance, but here are your true considerations.

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    The Lowdown on the Undecided Major

    First of all, many students worry that colleges will think that they are unfocused or not serious about their ambitions if they place "Undecided" as their college major. However, that is not the case. Many incoming college freshmen are undecided on what they ultimately want to study or which career path they aim to follow. A college admission board is not going judge a student based on that. Many students are admitted to almost any university as undecided each year, and some liberal arts colleges don't allow students to take specialized courses until their second year of study, anyway.

    There is also the rumor, however, that having an undeclared major will help you get into college. That is untrue. In most cases, having an undecided major does not play a factor in the admission process. Yet, there are other things to consider. Although claiming an undecided major will not hurt your chances of getting into a good school, there are rare (but still real) instances when a college is seeking students who are interested in a particular subject matter or field of study. Having a declared major will help you in those rare cases, but that is no excuse for quickly marking a major that you aren't committed to studying. The odds of you happening upon the one particular major that the rare school is seeking is slim at best. Only declare a major if you're at least fairly certain of what you want to do.

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    To Be or Not to Be Undecided

    For students who have focused primarily on their academic careers in high school, picking a major may be especially daunting. Studying and working hard towards an overall goal of going to college can seem confusing when the time for college arrives, and you have no idea what you want to do from there. As the great graduation song "Sunscreen" says, "Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't." At 18 and entering college, it's more than okay to be undecided about what you want to do with your college career.

    However, if you are certain of a specific field--yet just don't know what you want to do in that field--it may greatly benefit you to start college with that major. You will be able to quickly see if any of the jobs within that field work for you. Sometimes choosing a broad field means that you like the idea of the subject matter, yet none of its particular jobs are great for your needs, talents and personality. The sooner you learn that, the better. For example, if you want to work in the movie industry, declare yourself as a film major. Most freshmen will get a chance to see if they like going to the movies only, or if editing or cinematography is truly a passion for them. If you have a passion for one particular field of study, it's best to declare yourself as that major; early on, it's easy to switch majors for something else.

    Also, if you ultimately plan to be a professor or lawyer--yet don't know what subject field you want to specialize in--you may also want to declare yourself as an undecided college freshman. You will, however, want to indicate your eventual plans somewhere on your college application. Therefore, the school gets a greater idea of your overall plan.

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    Making the Final Decision

    Ultimately, your chances of getting into school as an undecided major and as a declared major are pretty much the same. The decision really comes down to how sure you are of what you want to do with your life or at least what you most want to study. It's a decision that you should truly make for yourself. If you truly want to study a subject that you think may disappoint your parents, it's best to announce it now, early in the process. Declare a major if you have a strong indication of what you want to do. If you honestly don't know, go with undecided. It's better to be undecided than to declare a major that you don't want.

    If you do decide on being undeclared, you want to demonstrate all of your interests and school ambitions in your essays and other areas of your application. By showing how you're a great student and dedicated to excelling in college, you overcome any edge that a declared major may have in demonstrating overall plans at the university.