Declaring your major in college is one of the first adult decisions many people make. In the form of polite small talk, graduating seniors often receive the well-meaning but sometimes annoying question, “What will you be studying?” What if the most honest answer is, “I don’t know?” Is your academic career, and thus your professional life doomed? The answer is, of course, no. 

Benefits of Waiting to Declare a Major

Studies show that roughly one in four students change their major freshman year. At eighteen, you are young and still figuring out who you are. Not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be that you are more cautious than your peers or even those who graduate into a profession they don’t even like.

Further, it could be you may not have even seen the profession that will later speak to your heart so loud you can’t ignore it. Your major could come to you in a  course , an extracurricular activity, a summer trip abroad, or just a casual conversation that leaves you thinking, “Wow. I didn’t even know that was a job!”

Your first year will be mainly general education requirements. A lot of these will be big lecture courses like Freshman Composition, and general science and math courses. Some schools even require freshman to take a course on the art of going to college, covering material such as study skills, life skills, and school culture. You may take an introductory course in your major, or attend a welcoming seminar in your department. But, it’s nothing you can’t make up if you switch later on.

Disadvantages of Waiting to Declare a Major

Some smaller schools do make an admissions decision based on an applicant’s major. They may have only so much space in each department and they must take that into consideration.

Some majors also require a separate application process, and these can be quite rigorous. It is not uncommon for high-demand majors to only take sophomore and above applicants—stipulating that all applicants must have “satisfactorily,” completed certain college-level courses.

If you discover this major well into your freshman year, you still have to take the prerequisites and may put yourself behind schedule for graduation. On top of that, you may take the prerequisites and not even get accepted. This can waste a lot of time.

Further, after your first year, you do need to have a major. Sophomore year still has a lot of general education requirements, but your peers will be moving past the introductory major courses, and into the intermediates. If you are still vacillating on your major, you can spend a lot of time and money and get nowhere.

What to Do If You Cannot Decide

In the English school system, it is very common for students to take a “gap year,” before entering university. During this gap year, students may travel, volunteer, or undertake other personal growth projects before they continue their studies. If college is upon you and you truly have no direction, consider taking a gap year. Backpack through Europe. Go see the Congo. Volunteer as a teacher in an underdeveloped country, or work as an inner-city tutor. As your eyes open to new ideas and people, you may stumble across exactly what you never knew you wanted.

Many people return from their gap years with a maturity that allows them to take life, and college more seriously. They have been in the adult world, and they have a better idea of what it’s going to take for them to successful. The only problem with the gap year is that frequently, a gap year turns into a gap decade. Then, if the student goes to college at all, they must work around their children, a spouse and a full-time job.

If you don’t know your major your freshman year, don’t stress. You will be fine. You don’t have to have it all figured just yet. Declaring your major should be undertaken with thought and care, not hastily scrawled on a form.

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