The Undecided Major Debate

Is college about focusing on a career early, or is it about learning a broad range of skills? Some colleges value starting students down the career path early, while others believe in letting students take time to choose a major.

Interactive Marketing Coordinator, Carnegie Communications

Originally Posted: Mar 22, 2012
Last Updated: Aug 30, 2013

Is college about focusing on a career early, or is it about learning a broad range of skills? Does it pay to enter college with a major already picked out, or should you go to college “undecided”? Some colleges value starting students down the career path early, while others believe in letting students take time to choose a major.

Career preparation

Staff members at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts work with students beginning sophomore year to prepare them for their careers. Heather Heerman, Stonehill’s Director of Career Services, says, “We help students understand the importance of taking advantage of internships, study abroad, leadership opportunities, and research so they can learn more about themselves and start preparing for life after Stonehill as sophomores.”

Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire, has a similar perspective, starting career preparation with students in their freshman year. The University is adding career exploration to its freshman seminar class, which all freshmen are required to take. This is the first time in about 20 years that the undergraduate core curriculum is being altered. Kim Mooney, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Franklin Pierce, says, “We understand that future employers are looking for college students with these skills [critical reading and oral communication]. These are the kinds of students that employers want to hire and promote in their companies.”


The University of Missouri – St. Louis says, in their career guide, “. . . between 30 and 40% of incoming freshmen are unsure of a major when they enter college.” It goes on to say that there are benefits of entering college without a major, and that students can use this time to discover what they are passionate about, as well as to “develop fundamental skills that will be essential to [their] future career[s].” According to the University, they may also find they are actually interested in subjects other than what they had originally believed.

At Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, students are not required to choose a major until the end of their sophomore year. One goal statement of Academic Support is, “Support undecided students as they assume responsibility to explore, identify and develop their educational goals.” Academic Support offers suggestions to help students choose a major, including starting by looking at all majors offered by Elon and eliminating those they have no interest in pursuing, and to take a look at what types of jobs they can get after graduation. Academic Support also says that students sometimes think that their major decides their future and there is little wiggle room but that “this is simply not true. Most people have many careers in a lifetime, regardless of their college major.”

The bottom line

There are clearly both positive and negative aspects to both perspectives.

By diving into a major soon after starting college, students may have the time to pursue a second major. The downside is that students who go down this path do not have the opportunity to explore their options and discover their true interests. 

Students who are given time to be “undecided” at college are able to learn about what really piques their interests and eventually choose a major based on this learning process. On the flip side, according to an article entitled “Undecided is Not a Major,” it may not be such a great idea to be “undecided.” The authors of this article are of the mindset that those with undecided majors are unmotivated and that “if you have no purpose, no passion you’ll have no drive, no reason to get you into the books at night and up and out of the bed in the morning.

And so the debate continues.

What do you think? Should students enter undecided? Or focus on a major early on?

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career preparation college majors Elon Franklin Pierce how to choose a major Mizzou Stonehill College undecided major

About Kristen Fackler

Kristen Fackler

Kristen is a May 2011 graduate of Elon University, with a bachelor of science in English and Spanish. While at Elon, Kristen had the opportunity to complete a lot of writing and editing, two areas she has always been passionate about. At the Writing Center, she worked as a consultant with peers and community members to improve their writing skills. She also worked as an editor of Visions, an environmental magazine published by Elon faculty and students. While in college, Kristen was able to spend a semester in Seville, Spain. During the time she was there, Kristen was able to keep a blog in Spanish. She also was published in más+menos* magazine, a bilingual magazine completed by students and faculty members of CIEE Study Center. Kristen has also written for Examiner and is currently writing for Suite101. She enjoys writing as much as possible.

You can circle Kristen on Google+, follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her CollegeXpress blog.


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