Undecided Students: Who Are They?

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Many students enter college undecided about their major.  Many students who enter college as undecided students worry that they are undecided.  Many students who enter college declaring a major are really undecided.

Some students may be unwilling, unable, or unready to make a choice of an area of study at the point when they enter college.  If she can see this as an opportunity, rather than a problem, your student will keep many doors open as she explores and gathers information during her first year.

As the parent of a college student you can help your student as he moves toward making what he may feel is one of the most important decisions in his life.  It may help if you try to understand why your student may be undecided and reassure him that beginning his college career as an undecided (or undeclared) major may be just fine.  (If it is the policy of your student’s school that he must declare a major when he enters, then you might remind him, even as he begins, that he will find that he may change his mind as he learns more about both his intended major and himself.)

There are several reasons why your college student may be undecided about a major as she begins college.   

  • She may lack information about herself, possible majors, or possible careers.  She may need to spend some time in college learning more about all of these areas.
  • She may not be comfortable yet with the decision making process.  She may not know or understand yet what is involved in choosing an area of study.
  • She may be conflicted.  There may be a conflict between her interests and her ability.  There may be a conflict between her goals and her values.  There may be a conflict between her goals and others’ opinions.
  • She may be afraid to commit and feel that there is “no rush”.
  • She may be equating a major with a career.  One major might lead a student to many possible careers.  One career might be approached through several possible majors.
  • She may be apathetic about the college experience.

Understanding your student’s reasons for remaining undecided will help you to support him and to help him begin to explore possibilities.  Consider which of the following statements sounds as though it could be made by your student.  This might help you to think about his reasons for being unsure about an area of study.

  • “I have no idea what I want to do.”
  • “I’m interested in everything and I can’t narrow it down.”
  • “I have some idea of what I’m interested in, but I’m not sure.”
  • “I want to do X but everyone expects me to do Y.”

Once you begin to understand some of the reasons behind your college student’s indecision, you can begin to talk to her about her interests, fears, uncertainties and dreams.  Together you can discuss possible ways to begin defining some goals.

Recognizing that not all “undecided” or “undeclared” students are the same may be an important first step. Viewing an “undecided” student as a student who is keeping all doors open is a wonderful next step.    Talking to your student about what he is thinking and feeling is always a good step.

 

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