college admissions process

When I begin talking with families about a college list, many parents lead the conversation with the question, “How do we choose the right college if my child is undecided about what major she wants to study?”  I tell these parents that for at least 80 percent of students, major shouldn’t be a main driver in where they pick a college. Why?

American higher education is unique in many ways, and one of those is the idea that students ought to attend college with a goal of exploring many subjects in order to figure out what they want to study. They do not need to begin their university education with a set course of action. To reinforce this idea, most colleges don’t ask for students to ultimately declare a major until the end of sophomore year. And many also require quite a few introductory courses, not only to give students a more robust general education, but to let them see what subjects might pique their interest.

Most Students Change Major at Least Once

Research shows that upwards of 60-70 percent of students will change their major at least once during college, which begs the question of why anyone would pick a college for a reason that has a large likelihood of changing?  Most schools (even small ones) have so many majors to choose from it’s not imperative that you know what you want to study before you unpack your bags freshman year.

I am a perfect example of the necessity for exploration. I’m not a science or math person, so when I went to find courses to fulfill those course requirements in college, I looked for the least science-y courses I could find. That’s how I discovered Psychology 101.  Lo and behold, I ended up loving the course and ultimately ended up declaring psychology as my major.  Ironically, the subject matter I bemoaned having to take ultimately was what led me to my future major.

I should also note that for many—myself included—what we study is not always what we end up “doing” with our lives. My job as an educator is more a product of having been a tour guide in college and Inter-sorority Vice President (which led me to getting a Masters in Higher Education) than having been a psych major.  There are definitely jobs that require a certain major; engineering comes to mind.  But for so many jobs these days, what you studied in college isn’t always directly related to your career. So, for those parents who are worried about having a child choose “undecided” on their application, fret not. Janet Reno was a chemistry major and Julia Roberts was pre-vet. You just never know what might happen!



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Written by Karen Spencer
Karen Spencer is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Karen previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Georgetown University and Franklin & Marshall College.