Undecided Students: How Can You Help? — Part 2

This is the second of two posts that consider students who enter college without declaring a major. In the first post, we considered reasons why your college student might feel undecided at the beginning of college. In this post we look at some ways in which you might help your student explore some options.

Once you’ve begun to think about why your student might be undecided about a major, you will recognize that the work of coming to a decision about a potential major will need to be done by your student.  But you may wonder whether there is anything that you can do to help and support him in the process.  The answer is yes!

Help her to debunk some myths.

  • Myth #1 – “I’ll just figure it out eventually.” – Just waiting and hoping will not necessarily help your student explore.  Let her know that she will need to do some work to find her path.
  • Myth #2 – “I’m the only one who doesn’t have a plan.”  – Your student may feel that he is the only one who has not chosen a major.  The reality is that at many colleges more students enter as undeclared students than anything else.
  • Myth #3 – “Once I’ve chosen a major, I won’t be able to change.” – Some majors are easier to change than others, but no student should continue in a major that he doesn’t feel is the right fit.  If a student feels that the major is not working for him, he should talk to an academic advisor or trusted professor.  Obviously, the earlier a change takes place the easier it will be.  A change may take place easily, or a change may require an extra summer class or even an extra semester, but changes of major are possible, are sometimes the very best choice for a student.
  • Myth #4 – “When I choose a major I’ll have chosen a career for my entire life.” – This myth is a two-fold concern. Help your student understand that a major is an area of study, a subject that she enjoys, not necessarily a career choice.  That major may lead to a specific career, but it may not.  Remind your student, too, that most people today change jobs and even career paths several times throughout their lives.  She can expect to make changes in direction as she moves through the workplace.

Be there.

  • Be supportive of your student as she struggles with this decision.  It is an important choice and for many students a difficult decision.  Knowing that you are there as a sounding board is important.
  • Don’t pressure her to make a decision sooner than she needs to.  (With the exception of some specialized majors, students often don’t need to declare a major sooner than the end of their first or second year.)
  • Try to help your student identify the “real” issue behind her indecision.  (We’ve discussed some possible reasons in the previous post about why students may be undecided.)
  • Help your student develop a plan of action.
  • Encourage your student to explore any career information available on campus.  Most colleges have a career office or department that would be happy to help your student gather information as well as do some self-exploration.  Colleges often sponsor career fairs or exploration events.
  • Help your student understand and integrate any information that she gathers.
  • Encourage your student to participate in co-curricular activities on campus.  Joining clubs or organizations on campus will not only help her to gather information, it will allow her to spend time with students with similar interests.
  • Help your student to clarify her values and goals.
  • Reassure your student that she will find a path.  Encourage her to have patience and to trust the process.

Ask questions.

Don’t ask every question you can think of, and don’t ask questions all at once, but ask questions that might help your student think about his interests and goals.

  • What majors are you considering?  Why are you thinking of those?  What do people do with those majors?
  • What is your favorite subject?  Why?
  • What outside activities do you like?
  • If you had a spare hour, what would you like to do?  What would you pick up to read?
  • What do you see as your greatest strengths?  Weaknesses?
  • Where do you picture yourself 5 years from now?  Ten years?  What environment would you see yourself in?
  • What resources are available at school to help you consider your options?
  • What are you doing to work on deciding about a major?
  • How can I help?

This is a big decision for your student.  As a parent, it may be difficult to step back and allow your student to make this decision.  Reassure him that you are there and that you understand how difficult this decision may be. Reassure him that with time he will find an answer.  Be honest with him if he asks your opinion.  Encourage him to take action to explore – both himself and the options available.  Enjoy watching him discover his place in the world.

Related Posts:

Undecided Students: Who Are They? – Part 1

Who Is Advising My College Student About Academic Issues?

Helping Your College Student Find Support on Campus

Exploring a Field of Study: Talking to a Faculty Member and Others

How the College Career Office Can Help Your Student.  Yes, Even Your College Freshman!

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