Helping the undecided student

Encouraging words to lead them down the right path

Helping the undecided student

The reason that most students decide to go to college is for a single purpose: to earn a degree. But sometimes students choose to enter college with an undeclared or undecided major. So how can you help guide a student through the college search and application process if they are unsure what they want to do in life?

Dr. Lisa Kerr, the “First Year Experience” program manager at Auburn University in Montgomery, AL ( insists that sometimes the confusion students have over choosing a major is a result of the wide array of career options available to them. She stresses that, “there is a lot of concern among students related to ‘what will the job market look like when I graduate?’” While it may be easy for students to declare a major when they first enter school, an average student will change his or her major approximately five times before graduation. She explains that this is the reason why “some students prefer to be a little more certain before committing to a specific career plan.”

It’s important to explain to students how beginning college undecided can be a means to explore their options and discover what they are good at as well as what they enjoy the most. Dr. Kerr insists that there are several ways for students to make the most of being undeclared, including shadowing or volunteering with someone who is in a career that the student wants to pursue. She also suggests students talk with faculty members in classes that the student likes and that students research their potential options by attending activity and job fairs on campus.

Insist that your students make connections with peers, support service staff and academic advisors and professors who are especially important resources for those who may be undecided about their major.

Going to college with an undeclared major is certainly not going to negatively affect a student’s college plan, as long as he or she has good time management. “There’s not a ‘magical’ time when students should declare a major,” says Dr. Kerr. “However, there typically comes a time when a student runs out of ‘elective’ courses.” Ensuring students graduate within four years is very possible if they come in undeclared; but, if he or she does not decide on a major by junior year, graduating on time will prove to be much more difficult.

“I think there are very few students who ever are 100 percent sure of their future career, though there are some,” says Kerr. Instead, make sure that they have done all that they can do to prepare, have explored all of their options thoroughly and have gained perspective in what they really want to do before finally making a decision.

“The most important thing to remember is that [your students] are not alone,” says Dr. Kerr. It’s important to remind them that, “there are people at every campus that are interested in [their] academic goals, progress and success – find them and let them support and challenge you.”

Heading off to college before declaring a major doesn’t mean your students are unprepared or don’t know what they’re doing. Instead, remind your students that it can offer an opportunity to discover what they really want to do and can open them up to a world of new opportunities.


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