During the college application process, you're certain to encounter one question: Which major do you plan to pursue? Although some students have a concrete vision of their intended major, others might not be so confident-- and in those situations, you may turn to general studies or an undeclared major -- but is this a valid option?
“'Undecided' or 'General Studies' can be a perfectly acceptable choice for students who are not sure what they want to study; however, there are differences in the way colleges work with undecided students," says Stacey Cunitz, director of college counseling at the Crefeld School in Philadelphia, Pa.
Students who attend liberal arts colleges often do not declare a major until the end of sophomore year, which can be an ideal environment for a student who does not know which major to pursue.
“At liberal arts colleges, there is an expectation that all students will explore a variety of interests before homing in on a department to call home," explains Cunitz.
Universities are different in that many of them require students to apply to a major within a specific school or program. Often, the curriculum for many degrees at universities can be a little more rigid in terms of major requirements, giving students less exploratory time to figure out what they want to pursue.
“So you might be able to be 'Undecided-Business' or 'Undecided-Arts & Sciences,' but you have to pick a college," explains Cunitz. “In such a system, look for special advising or programming for undecided or exploratory students. Without it, you may end up changing majors several times and then struggle to graduate in four years."
Some higher education institutions actually also offer a bachelor's degree in general studies, which is not specific to one major. If, after two years of college, you still don't know which major to declare, and your institution offers a degree in general studies, that can be a good option. It may give you more time to decide which career you want to pursue or graduate degrees that may be of interest to you.
To have the most amount of time to decide on a major once in college, it's probably a good idea to have one or two liberal arts colleges on the list of institutions where you plan to apply. If you are also applying to larger universities, it is still possible to start as an undeclared major, but you may need to make a decision on your major relatively quickly after starting school. Otherwise, you may end up needing to stay an extra semester or two beyond four years to finish your degree.
And if you are truly indecisive, you could consider a bachelor's degree in general studies to buy yourself more time to figure out your exact career path. Many careers after college require a bachelor's degree but may not require a specific major, so you will still have career choices even with a general bachelor's degree.
Not everyone knows exactly what they ultimately want to do for a living when they are still in high school, so don't worry. Take your time. You can start undeclared, choose a major and change your mind, or pursue a general studies bachelor's degree. It might take some soul-searching about your professional future, but by giving yourself time to figure it out, you'll find your way.
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