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College Programs: Do I Have to Declare a Major?

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Almost sounds like “What do you want for your birthday?” doesn’t it? No? Well, OK, the questions aren’t the same, but ask anyone between the ages of 2 and 18 and you’re likely to get at least a short list, if not a long one.

Indecision in choosing college programs is OK

If you’re like many people preparing to head off to college, you may answer similarly when someone asks you what you want to major in, but you shouldn’t feel pressured. When you’re only 17 or 18, being undecided about your college major and what you want to do with your life is TOTALLY NORMAL! Almost two-thirds of all college kids change their major at least once before they graduate—and half of them will change it more than once!

Keep your options open when looking at college degree programs

Figuring out what you want to study is a tough decision, but it shouldn’t stress you out. If you’re undecided, choose a school where you’re free to explore your interests. When you create your list, focus on finding schools that support your general interests. Then you won't feel completely out of your element when you get there. If you use a search engine that requires you to input a major, choose several fields of study that interest you to diversify the results you get.

If you’re not using a search engine, try to locate schools that offer a wide variety of college degree programs. Whatever search method you use, don’t forget about all your other criteria. Finding a college that meets your preferences and gives you the opportunity to explore your degree options will help you find the college that’s the right fit for YOU!

Your college academics offer a time and place for exploration

College is a great place to find out more about yourself. Start your first year by taking a variety of introductory courses and exploring what interests you. From there you can narrow down your choices. By your sophomore year, however, you should try to have a clearer picture of where you are headed in your college academics, so you don’t end up in school longer than you want to be.

Still feel like you have to declare something? You can—it doesn’t mean you have to stick with it, although you don’t want to change it too late in the game, either. A lot of students change their college majors once they really know where they’re going, which is perfectly fine. Do keep in mind that if you jump from English to chemistry, for example, the prerequisite courses you took in American lit may not fulfill credits towards your new major. If you received a departmental scholarship, that, too, might be affected.

If you change your mind later rather than sooner, you could end up in school a little bit longer fulfilling the requirements for your new major. This could cost time as well as money since tuition is usually charged by the credit hour. Stick with as many required core courses as possible during your first semester or two; many schools have classes they require all freshmen to take regardless of their college majors. By doing so, you’ll minimize the amount of catching up you’ll have to do if you change majors.

Choosing your college major should be all about you

Above all, remember that being undecided about your college programs is OK! Choosing the studies that appeal to your spirit (and you’ll know when it does) will make your college experience—and your future—that much more rewarding. With a whole world out there to choose from, you should take your time to figure out what it is that you really want to do—and then go out and do it!

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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