We ask our high school students to make some big decisions about their lives. Often, it feels as though, as adults, we switch back and forth between ”You’re too young to understand,” to ”Now it’s time to decide what you want to do with your life.” Is it any wonder that many high school students, in the midst of trying to select a college, may feel overwhelmed?
What are you going to do with your life?
As your high school student approaches their junior and senior year of high school, the two questions they are probably asked more often than any others are ”Where are you going to apply to college?” and ”What are you going to major in?” For a student who may not yet know what they are interested in majoring in — and that may be as high as half of all entering college students — answering the first question may be harder. Students who don’t yet have a major in mind may find it harder to select a college.
There are many different reasons why students may not have a major in mind as they search for a college. It’s important that parents help their students understand that it’s fine not to have a major in mind yet. (One study suggests that as many as 75% of students who enter college with a major change their mind anyway.) But not having a major in mind means that there is one less factor to consider when looking at various schools.
Twelve important questions to ask
Actually, students who are undecided, may use their ”undecidedness” as an important element in thinking about which schools might be the best places to help them make up their mind. Here are twelve questions that your student can ask during admissions visits to help them find a school which might help them on their journey to discover the best major.
- What majors does the college offer? Is there a broad variety of majors so that your student will have many options?
- When do students need to declare a major? Will there be time for your student to explore options before they need to make a decision?
- What percentage of students enter the college as undecided students? Will your student feel left out or part of a large number of students who are also exploring?
- How does the college refer to undecided students? Whether they are called, ”undecided,” ”undeclared,” ”exploratory,” or some other term, may reveal something about the school’s attitude toward these students.
- Are students able — and encouraged — to take exploratory courses in several areas to help investigate varied interests?
- How do students change majors if they find something isn’t working? How many students make these changes? How difficult is the process?
- What kind of advising system is in place? Who will be assigned as the student’s advisor? Will the advisor be in a major area or a central advising office? How will the advisor be able to help the student explore options? Is it possible to change advisors?
- Are there any programs in place for undecided students? Is there a plan to help students participate in career assessments, workshops, exploratory interviews, etc.
- How many students have minors? Double majors?
- Are there any options for individually designed majors or combinations of majors?
- Does the school offer exploratory tracks, such as STEM studies, social and behavioral sciences, or humanities, which might allow a student to explore an area or field before committing to a specific major?
- What institutional resources are available to help undecided students explore?
Where do the answers lead?
As your student considers the answers to these questions, it should lead them to ask some follow-up questions.
- Is this a school where I will feel comfortable being undecided for a while?
- Is this a school which will encourage and help me to take an active role in deciding on my interests and direction?
- Will I feel comfortable saying that I am ”undecided” on my application?
If your student can answer ”yes” to the above questions, then this may be a good fit for them as an undecided or exploratory student.
Keeping doors open
Being an undecided or exploratory student may be the best possible option for many students. It means that your student is keeping all of their doors open and looking at many possibilities. Many educational professionals feel that the choice of major is best delayed until the second year of college. This gives students the time to be both developmentally ready to make a decision and educationally prepared to understand the implications of the decision.
Encourage your student to keep their options open — and to find a school that will continue to foster that important sense of exploration and support your student through the process.