Should Every College Freshman Be ‘Undeclared’?

Did you know that nearly 40% of incoming college freshman are undecided on a major and that 75 to 80% of all students change majors at least once during their college career*?

With these high percentages, it isn’t surprising that academic institutions spend considerable resources on supporting students who are undecided with such things as advisory services, career assessments, or first year career and life planning seminars.

I recently came across an academic advising paper that even recommended institutions prohibit major selection until a traditional student’s second year*.  The paper was written by Liz Freedman – a career services employee at Butler University. Liz suggests that traditional first year students are not developmentally ready to make decisions about majors and that instead they should be better supported during the first year through advising from an objective, central advising office. In addition, she suggests that students be offered career assessments, personal research opportunities in areas of study, job shadow experiences, informational interviewing guidance, personal reflections writing, upper-level classes observations, and faculty interviewing.

I am not sure where I stand on forcing delayed major decisions. I agree that it could be helpful for many students but those that have already completed extensive career exploration may be frustrated with having to wait a year to really dig into their desired major. Regardless, I do strongly agree with Liz on factors that she believes are critical to helping students select a major:

  • Students must have knowledge of the professional world
  • Decisions should be based on students’ true personal goals, interests, and values
  • Career exploration should include time for self-reflection

We purposely built such features into the Couragion app in order to help students better consider how careers and degrees fit their life vision. The role model videos give students a firsthand look at the professional world and what it would really be like to have such a job. The app includes general as well as career-specific interest and value inventories to help a student see how a job suits them. And the app integrates points of self-reflection for the student to rate and journal how they feel about the applicability of each career to their goals, interests, and values. By integrating such features our hope is that students can make more informed decisions and select more rewarding and satisfying careers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Do you agree that major selection should be delayed until second year? What factors do you feel are most critical to degree and career selection? Feel free to comment below or email me (laura at

*Sources: The Everything College Major Test Book, Nadler and The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major: Why Institutions Should Prohibit Choice until Second Year

Laura Farrelly1 Comment