The Crisis of the Undecided Student


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Brooke Kruger, Opinion Writer

As the University of North Dakota reaches the end of the first semester, numerous freshmen, sophomores, and the occasional upper-class student are entering panic mode. Some are rethinking their choice of undergraduate major, not enjoying their major courses, or are labeled the dreaded word, “undeclared”. As if the weight of finals isn’t enough for students, the pressure of finding their perfect career for the rest of their lives nears with every passing semester.  

Being an undeclared or undecided student is O.K. Many students forget that not everybody knows what they want to do with the rest of their lives immediately after graduation. However, there is an unexplained feeling of shame or embarrassment that students experience when they are not decided on their major. The initial question that sparks conversation with new peers in college is “what is your major?”. Responding with undecided or undeclared is not as humiliating as it might seem in that moment. As freshmen, roughly 20-50% of students enter college with undecided majors and 75% of undergraduate students will change their major at least once before graduation.  

Undergraduate major skepticism usually stems from the inadequacy of high schools or a student’s previous lack of involvement. Smaller high schools offer fewer courses, less variety, and fewer extracurriculars, giving students slimmer chances of discovering their passion before college. Students following long lines of family doctors or lawyers might have an easier time choosing their profession than a first-generation college student with less guidance.  

Student-parent conflict is one of the largest concerns of both parties in an undeclared undergraduate situation. With the cost of tuition being sky high, parents are usually skeptical about their students using incredible sums of money to take random classes with no career goal in mind. Parents need to remember that students spend their first year completing essential studies and general courses. These often don’t pertain specifically to any major, are required by the university, and prepares students to do well in whichever major they pursue. During this general learning period, many students discover something that they are passionate about. Using this time to expand their social network, students learn about different majors from their peers, obtain wisdom from their academic advisors, and build relationships with professors that might give them opportunities for deeper exploration into different fields.   

Students who enter college as undeclared must be prepared to transfer to another institution if necessary. If a major is decided on as an upperclassman student and it requires special programming or courses not offered all semester, students might want to transfer to another college so they can complete their degree more efficiently.  

Many undecided students feel that they should stay at a larger school with more career options and chances to discover a major that they enjoy. However, Chris Teare, the Director of College Counseling at the Antilles School in the Virgin Islands suggests transferring to a smaller college if students can’t decide on a course. “Sometimes families believe – or have been told – that undecided young people should go to larger universities that offer many different programs from which to choose. I disagree. Larger institutions are far less likely to be able to provide the personal care, attention and advising that smaller colleges offer. Undecided kids in large universities often drift aimlessly from program to program, major to major, sometimes having to spend additional years once they settle on a focus because they can’t immediately schedule the courses they need to graduate”.  

The last concept to consider is that only 27% of students work a job completely related to their major after college, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and 90% of employers look for strong critical thinking, expert communication, and creative problem solving instead of a degree. Academic advisors and counselors are available for students and are excellent at finding the resources students need to explore their career options

Brooke Kruger is a Dakota Student Opinion Writer. She can be reached at [email protected]