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Articles / Applying to College / "Undecided" Major for Undecided Applicant?

"Undecided" Major for Undecided Applicant?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 19, 2008

Question: My son is the epitome of the "undecided" kid and is looking forward to taking a wide variety of courses at college. If you were to press him for favorite subjects, he would say languages (Spanish and Latin) and the sciences. I've heard that putting "Undecided" on his applications is not a wise idea, but that he should write some subject down for potential course of study. What do you think?

Spanish and Latin are both excellent, somewhat atypical choices, assuming that admission folks won't scratch their heads and wonder where those options came from (i.e., not a hot idea if your son got a "C-" in his one year of 8th-grade Spanish and hasn't tried Latin at all!). Biology is a very common selection; physics, chem, biology, geology, astronomy (i.e., most other sciences) somewhat less so.

I am not a big fan of the "Undecided" response. In the good old days, when most applications were hand-written, I would suggest that my "Undecided" advisees should write something along the lines of, "I love languages and might end up majoring in Spanish or Latin. Perhaps I'll start a new language (Chinese?) or fall in love with a field I've yet to discover." This way, the applicant is showing that he or she does have academic passions but is also broad-minded enough to consider new subjects.

Today's electronic apps often make such lengthy responses impossible. When given several spaces to fill in (e.g., the Common App allows three choices from a pull-down menu), my recommendation is that your son should put down two options in the first couple slots (Spanish? Latin? his favorite science?) and then "Undecided" in the third one. This sends the message that he is not fully committed and still looking but does have interests he hopes to pursue and that he isn't just going to college for the frat parties or on-campus Pizza Hut (or is he?) ;)

Obviously, the stakes are different when applying to universities where choices of major are binding. Sure, kids can usually switch once matriculated, but it's trickier than it is at schools where students won't officially choose till the end of sophomore year, when the selection on the application is probably long forgotten. So, if any of these colleges are on your son's list, be sure that he knows which ones they are and that he treads more carefully when making a major selection.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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