Undecided? Don’t Overthink It


College application season is in full swing, and that means we only have a few months to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives (right?). We all know someone whose heart has been set on becoming a heart surgeon or an electrical engineer or a professional photographer for years. But for those of us who still have no idea, the prospect of suddenly having to choose a major can be overwhelming.

According to the Washington Post, only about 27 percent of people who graduated from college have a job that is directly related to what they majored in, and people are constantly changing their career paths well after they graduate from college. So why are we still so worried?

With the frenzy of submitting applications, it seems that we need to decide now. For me, that would mean choosing between some wildly different areas that I’m equally interested in. By definition, I’m undecided. But in the context of college applications, I often hesitate to label myself this way, because I think those who identify with the term fall into two pretty different categories: those who have a wide variety of specific interests and can’t decide what to focus on, and those who still aren’t sure of what their interests actually are.

For those who fall under the first category, congrats — you’re in a great place. ‘Undecided’ doesn’t necessarily describe you, and most college just ask because they want to see your interests at the moment. The major you choose, contrary to what many believe, is by no means set in stone. In fact, it’s closer to being written in sand. You’re not bound to the major by any means, and most colleges make it easy to switch. So for now, my advice would be to choose something that connects to interests and strengths outlined in other parts of your application, and do your best to be confident in whatever you choose. It’s better to show a strong interest in one or two things that you do like than to put a label on yourself that can often connote no interests at all.

If, on the other hand, you’re entirely undecided and have no overwhelming interest in any particular area, then you also have a few options. One, you can choose a major that mildly interests you, then see how you like the first few classes you take once you’re admitted and enrolled (it seems so far off, doesn’t it?). Your second choice, of course, is to select the ‘Undecided’ option… [insert sirens and flashing red lights].

Just kidding. There is nothing wrong with going the ‘undecided’ route; in fact, it can be incredibly useful in helping you figure out exactly what you are interested in. Many colleges offer programs specifically designed to help undecided students explore their interests effectively. One such program is U of I’s Division of General Studies (DGS), which offers a flexible and varied schedule for college freshmen and sophomores who want a chance to explore before locking themselves in. Students are given a DGS adviser who helps students to design a schedule that will allow them to explore while staying on track for graduation. Programs like these are great options for those who haven’t had ample time or resources to explore possible interests. And to be honest, they’re still worth considering even if you think you know what you want to do.

One of the biggest fears people have when it comes to choosing a major is the thought that they might have to give up other areas of interest. Depending on your interests, that may be true to an extent, but options like certificate programs and minors exist, and they take up less time than double majoring. You can also stay involved through joining a related club. As long as you’re dedicated, and willing to possibly spend a little less time on them, there’s no reason you’ll have to give up any of your passions.

The point of all this is that you do not have to choose now, nor do you have to choose any time soon. And even then, it won’t matter too much. Hopefully, that gives you a bit of relief.

That said, good luck to those finishing up early action and early decision applications (now there’s something to worry about).