While there’s nothing wrong with being undeclared, it does mean you have to ask yourself slightly different questions when you’re choosing a university. For instance, which schools are the best for an undecided student? What makes a good college for undecided majors? And should I go to a college with a lot of majors, or apply more broadly to different types of schools?
In this article, we’ll give you the lowdown on the best colleges for undecided majors. We’ll cover:
- What it means to be undecided
- What characterizes good schools for undecided majors
- The six colleges that are excellent options for students who start college undecided
The only thing you don’t have to be undecided about is reading this article! (You know you love a Dad joke.) So let’s get started.
Not everyone knows what they want to major in right away...and that's okay! Just make sure you choose a university that's a good fit for undeclared students.
What Does It Mean to Be Undecided?
“Undecided” or “undeclared” refers to an admitted or enrolled college student who has not yet selected a major.
A major is the area of study that a college pursues throughout their college coursework. For instance, a history major will take the majority of their college courses in history, and an engineering major will spend most of their time taking engineering classes.
While a history or engineering major will graduate with a degree in those majors, an undecided major is temporary--you can’t graduate from college undecided. The purpose of the undecided major is to give students time to decide on what they truly want to major in before they declare it.
To sum everything up, “undecided” is just a placeholder while you explore your academic interests at the beginning of your college career. You’ll have to choose a major at some point, usually by the end of your sophomore year!
While most universities accommodate undecided students, some offer more support than others. Here are the things you should look for in a university if you're going in undeclared.
What Defines Good Schools for Undecided Majors?
Like we mentioned earlier, undecided students will have a different checklist for picking a university. Whereas someone who wants to major in environmental science will look for schools with strong programs in that area. But since you can’t major in “undeclared,” you’ll have to use a slightly different—and broader!—set of criteria as you pick your future school.
Here are the six features of good colleges for undecided majors that you need to know before choosing a school.
#1: You Don’t Have to Declare a Major Upon Entry
Many schools don’t require applicants to declare a major on their application. In fact, they may even have “undecided” or “undeclared” as a choice! A good college for undecided majors will make it clear on their application that students can come in as an undeclared major.
The flip side of this coin is that there are schools that do require you to declare a major when you apply, especially if a school or program is competitive. In many cases, the schools that require students to declare a major upon entering will require that students apply directly to the college (e.g. the College of Business) that their intended major is housed in. It’s important to check on your school’s policy regarding declaring a major, even if you think you already have the info you need.
The best way to figure out if a school requires you to declare a major? Talk to an admissions counselor at each of your potential schools. They’ll let you know how their university handles undeclared majors, so you can make sure you’re choosing a more flexible school.
#2: There Are Several Programs You’re Interested In
Colleges with a lot of majors for you to explore might be the best choice for an undeclared student. It lets you keep your options open so that you’re not pinned down to a specific type of degree, like you would be at an art school or engineering university.
Because of their size, bigger universities often offer more majors in more fields of study. For example, the University of California-Los Angeles offers 125 majors, whereas a smaller California school, Pepperdine University, only offers 45 majors to its students.
If you want to start college undeclared, you might benefit from the plethora of options provided by a larger university so that you have more majors to choose from.
#3: You Can Explore Multiple Majors
Undeclared students should also see whether their potential schools allow students the chance to explore multiple majors. One way that some schools allow students to test the waters of multiple majors is by providing an open curriculum (especially colleges with a lot of majors).
It’s pretty common for a university to require that students take a prescribed set of courses to earn their degrees. Depending on your school and major, you may not have a lot of flexibility to explore other classes or courses of study.
At schools that offer an open curriculum, like Brown University, students instead develop a personalized course of study based on subjects they’re interested in. This model can be demanding for students, since it asks them to take ownership of their educational journey...but it also allows students to sample courses in a wide range of subjects before making the commitment to one major. Other schools that offer an open curriculum include Amherst College, Vassar College, and Wake Forest University.
While open curriculums are pretty rare, you can look for colleges that allow you to take many extracurricular courses, too. An extracurricular course is a class you take because you’re interested in it, not because it counts toward your major. Many students choose to use extracurriculars to explore other subjects, and for an undecided student, it can help you narrow down which majors you’re interested in!
One of the key things to look for in a university? Good support services for undeclared students!
#4: It Offers Meta-Majors
Colleges that are good for undecided majors might also offer something called “meta-majors.” A relatively new model for academic degree plans, meta-majors group individual majors under a broader academic category. The purpose of the meta-majors model is to give students wiggle room to choose a major within a more specific discipline.
Another benefit to the meta-major option is that it prevents them from taking (and paying for!) courses that won’t help them make real progress toward their degree. At Shawnee State University, for example, there are six meta-majors in business, education, engineering technology, health sciences, liberal arts, mathematics and science, and social science. When a student chooses one of these meta-majors, they have the option to take any course within the meta-major and have it count toward their degree.
So instead of having to choose a much more narrowed focus within the business field as a freshman, like accounting or business management, students who know they are interested in business can select the meta-major, take courses in accounting and business management, then choose their major based on which area they like best. And all the classes they take still count toward their graduation credit total!
Schools that have implemented meta-majors have seen a significant decrease in students changing majors. At Georgia State University, the number of students changing majors decreased by 30% after the implementation of meta-majors. Students have also been shown to be more likely to graduate on time under a meta-majors model.
So if you’re undecided but have a general idea of what you’d like to study, going to a school with meta-majors may be right for you.
#5: There are Support Services for Undeclared Students
Many schools that accept undecided majors provide university resources to help those students explore different fields of study. These resources help keep undecided majors from getting stuck in their indecisiveness. Often, these resources also put students in touch with faculty or peer mentors who they can discuss their academic interests with.
Smaller colleges may be better equipped to provide support services specifically for undecided students. At these types of schools, undecided majors may find that they have access to more one-on-one resources like monthly personal academic advising, registration assistance, majors and minors workshops, and classes specifically for undecided students.
Schools that provide robust support services for undecided students may be the best fit for undecided students who are looking for more personalized guidance as they search for a major and a future career.
#6: It Has Academic and Career Clubs
Most college majors have corresponding clubs, which allow students to dive into professional-type work without the pressure of a real job. For example, journalism majors can work for the college paper or campus magazines as part of a journalism club. On the other hand, a nursing club may give you opportunities to speak to real-life nurses to learn more about their jobs.
The good news about these clubs is that you don’t have to be majoring in the field to join them. Plenty of students join clubs just because they’re interested in them!
If you go into college undecided, joining clubs associated with majors you’re interested in is a great way to test the waters before you commit to a major. As a bonus, these clubs often invite career professionals to give talks or seminars, which can give students additional insight into what type of work experience specific majors can lead to.
Brown University is one of our top picks for best colleges for undecided majors because it has an open curriculum. That lets students design their own course of study! (AWeenieMan/Wikimedia)
6 of the Best Colleges for Undecided Majors
The good news is that there are tons of good schools for undecided majors to choose from, which can be a little overwhelming! That’s why we’re highlighting six solid options for students who want to start college undeclared.
- Location: Providence, RI
- Admission Rate: 8%
Brown gets a spot on our list of good schools for undecided majors because this school uses an open curriculum, which allows students to explore multiple fields of study and design of an academic path that meets individual students’ needs and learning goals.
At Brown, the open curriculum asks students to take ownership of their degree plan by developing their own course of study based on their interests instead of taking a prescribed set of courses. This doesn’t mean Brown students will graduate without a major; it just means they will be able to sample courses in a range of subjects before diving into their major.
Along the way, students receive guidance from Brown faculty and peer advisors as they choose their educational path. So if you want lots of flexibility in your degree plan, then Brown could be a good fit for you.
- Location: Atlanta, GA
- Admission Rate: 71%
Georgia State University (GSU) is a public university located in Atlanta, Georgia. GSU is one of the best schools for undecided majors because it uses the meta-majors model we talked about earlier. The meta-majors offered at GSU are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), business, arts and humanities, policy, health, education and social sciences.
At GSU, new students are organized into Freshman Learning Communities (FLCs) based on their selected meta-majors. In these FLCs, students take courses together and form study partnerships with peers who are also deciding on their final major. So, while students must declare a meta-major upon enrolling at GSU, they have time and flexibility in choosing their final major (and a guarantee that their early coursework will count toward their degree).
- Location: Boston, MA
- Admissions Rate: 19%
We think Northeastern University is an excellent school for undecided majors because it provides a program designed specifically for guiding and mentoring undeclared students called the Explore Program.
Northeastern’s Explore Program prepares students to make informed decisions about their academic career path as they prepare to choose their major. In the Explore Program, undecided students can take a range of courses in different fields of study, connect with academic advisors and peer mentors, attend exploratory events to network with alumni, and take a special first-year seminar course with fellow undeclared students.
In other words, Northeastern provides undecided students with a structured, supportive environment to help them choose their major!
If you think having a mentor will help you pick a major, then Rice's Residential Peer Academic Advisors program might be a good fit for you! (Anatol Stefanowitsch/Wikimedia)
- Location: Houston, TX
- Admission Rate: 11%
Rice is a great college for undecided majors because it allows students to delay declaring a major until the end of their sophomore year, and it provides quality mentorship for undecided students during their first year at Rice.
During students’ freshman year at Rice, they’re encouraged to rely on peer advisors to learn about different majors. The Residential Peer Academic Advisors (PAAs) program is made up of fellow undergraduate students, and the advisors serve as familiar and approachable contacts for undecided students. The PAAs also sponsor events throughout the freshman year to help students explore their academic interests. Special major advisors are also available to undecided students who want to talk to an expert about different majors before deciding upon an area of study.
If you’re worried about being left behind as an undeclared student, the Rice PAA program can ensure that you’re part of a community while still getting the guidance and support you need.
- Location: Chicago, IL
- Admission Rate: 7%
The University of Chicago makes our list of good schools for undecided majors because it doesn’t allow students to declare majors on their university application, so everyone comes in undeclared! The school also doesn’t require students to declare a major until the spring semester of their third year of college.
While it might seem like delaying declaring a major until the third year of college could result in wasted time and superfluous course credits, UChicago actually safeguards against this through its core curriculum. All students take courses in the core curriculum during their first three years of school, with tons of flexibility for choosing courses and completing the core requirements. The core curriculum is specifically designed so that any Core course a student takes will be applicable to the major they eventually choose at UChicago. This means that if students delay declaring a major until their third year of college, all of their core course credits will still count toward their degree.
- Location: Seattle, WA
- Admission Rate: 49%
The University of Washington made the cut for our picks for good colleges for undecided majors because it offers tons of majors and student organizations. These resources can help undecided students get connected to their campus community and explore several options before settling on a major.
UW has a lot to offer undecided students both outside and inside the classroom. UW boasts over 800 student organizations, many of which are focused on gaining experience within various fields of study. Students looking to apply to colleges with a lot of majors may find what they’re looking for in UW’s expansive offering of more than 200 majors as well.
Undecided students can explore these majors through general education courses and electives. One thing to note about UW, though, is that their computer science and engineering majors have a limited capacity, so these two majors require a special application when students apply for admission to UW.
3 Tips for Choosing a School as an Undecided Student
It might seem like choosing a school while being an undecided student is tough, there are three things you can do to make the process easier.
Tip 1: Spend Some Time Thinking About the Future
Yeah, we know—if you knew what you wanted to do, you wouldn’t be undeclared! But we’re asking you to step back and think more about the big picture than what you want to do as a job.
For instance, do you want to live in a big city or a small town? That might change the career fields that are available to you. Another question you might ask yourself is whether you want to work in an office or if you prefer being out in nature. Knowing the answer to questions like these will help give you a general idea of what matters to you as a person.
As an added benefit, these answers can also help you choose a school by narrowing down your choices. If you’re not a big city person, then you’ll probably find a huge campus (like USC’s, for example) pretty overwhelming. That means you can start looking at smaller schools that offer you flexibility as an undeclared student. And if you want a career in the great outdoors, you can begin narrowing your school choices to universities that have outstanding agricultural and environmental programs (among others)!
Tip 2: Research, Research, Research
Unfortunately, no two schools treat undecided students the same. They all offer different programs and opportunities, so you’ll have to look at individual schools to get a sense of what they’ll provide for you on your quest to choose a major.
The best place to start looking for information is through each university’s admissions department. While “undeclared student” resources might not be listed on the admissions website, you can call a counselor to get the skinny on the services and support that may be available to you. They’ll be able to connect you with other offices and organizations that can give you a sense of what your experience as an undecided student might be like at that specific university.
Tip 3: Know What Support You’ll Need
Before building your college list, take some time to figure out what kind of support you might want. Are you the kind of person who likes to figure things out on your own? Then schools that let you explore on your own through elective classes might work best for you. If you’re someone that likes structure, then you should search for schools that have specific classes and programs for undecided students.
Understanding what you need to be successful will help you pick a school with the resources and programs that fit your personality.
Are you not sure if being undecided is right for you? That’s okay! Learning more about what a major is might help you make a decision.
Part of applying to college involves building a list of schools to apply to. We can help you narrow down your school choices so that you’re only applying to universities that are a good fit for you.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.