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Best Majors for Undecided Students

a student looks at a computer monitor deciding on a major

The dreaded question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Most of us have heard this question since we were in elementary school. My answers have ranged from a zoologist (I used to want to be the next Jane Goodall) to a journalist covering Latin America (my answer as a senior in high school). Hint: I am neither of those today.

It is okay not to know exactly what you want to be in the future. We are usually exposed to a limited number of subjects in high school, which limits our perspective and worldview. 

By the time I graduated from high school, I knew that I enjoyed history/social sciences and English more than math and science. Having a general sense of which subjects you enjoy can help you figure out which classes to take in college and, ultimately, which major to pursue. 

Choosing a college major through trial and error

At many colleges, you don’t need to choose a major until the end of your sophomore year. This means that you have nearly four semesters (or 16 classes - assuming you take four classes/semester) to figure out what you want to study.

When I started my studies at Brown University, I was pretty sure I wanted to major in International Relations so I could become an investigative journalist in Latin America (inspired by a program I did in El Salvador the summer before my high school senior year). 

The good thing about International Relations is that it is interdisciplinary, meaning I could take classes in lots of different departments, all of which counted towards the International Relations major. In my first year, I took classes in six different departments: Anthropology, Hispanic Studies, Portuguese & Brazilian Studies, Political Science, Economics, and History. 

For my sophomore year, I continued exploring different subjects since I felt I hadn’t quite landed on what I was passionate about. I took my first Education class that fall and was hooked. The next semester, I took two more Education classes and decided to double major in International Relations and Education.

Interdisciplinary majors, like International Relations, can be a great starting point for students who aren’t quite sure what they want to study. Since the types of courses that counted towards the International Relations major were so varied, I was able to gain exposure to many different fields. 

One of my friends who majored in International Relations realized she had a passion for medicine and is now a doctor. Another one of my International Relations friends ended up becoming an entrepreneur. We studied the same major but pursued different career paths.

How to choose a college as an undecided major

It’s important to choose a college that will fit your unique needs as an undecided student. If you are like me, when I started college, I already had a general sense of the areas of study I wanted to explore, so I wanted the freedom to select the classes I took as early as my first semester. 

The difference between an open curriculum and core curriculum 

How many classes you get to select versus how many general education/core curriculum requirements you must complete will vary from college to college. If you want a lot of academic freedom, as I did, select a college that does not have very many general education/core curriculum requirements. 

You can always Google the name of the college or university and “general education/core curriculum requirements” to learn more about what is required at that specific college. 

Colleges with an open curriculum 

Let’s do a comparison. University of Rochester, a mid-sized, private university in Rochester, NY has minimal course requirements that apply to all students regardless of major. The University of Rochester is an example of a university with more of an open curriculum, meaning students can choose most of their classes as early as the first semester. 

Colleges with a core curriculum 

On the other hand, the University of Houston, a large, public university, has a 42-semester credit hour core curriculum, which amounts to about 14 classes or three and a half semesters. Students can still choose which classes to take within subject areas, but they need to meet certain requirements. A core curriculum can be beneficial for students who are truly undecided, meaning they are not leaning toward certain areas of study.

Colleges requiring program-specific applications 

Something else to be mindful of is that there are colleges where instead of applying to the college itself, you apply to colleges within the larger college, like the College of Engineering, the College of Business, the College of Arts & Sciences, etc. 

As an undecided student, this can be daunting since you’re not sure what you want to major in. When in doubt, select the College of Arts & Sciences since it usually offers the most variety in terms of majors. 

For example, the University of Michigan’s College of Arts & Sciences offers more than 85 majors in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In contrast, the College of Business offers one major. As a University of Michigan student, you can still take classes and even select a minor offered by another college.

More majors to consider as an undecided student

Beyond the majors I’ve already mentioned (International Relations and Neuroscience), here are a few others to consider. What all these share in common is that they equip you with transferable skills, like critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving, which will prepare you for a wide range of careers in a diverse set of industries.

  • Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures. Anthropologists seek to understand how people make sense of the world and adapt to their surroundings. It enhances students’ ability to communicate and collaborate across cultural boundaries.
  • Biology is the study of how and why living systems work. It is one of the most common majors for students who intend to study medicine and need to complete premed requirements. 
  • Business or Economics provides fundamental knowledge about markets, finances, management, and decision-making. It allows students to gain a deep understanding of how organizations operate.
  • Psychology is the scientific approach to understanding the human mind's and behavior's complexities. It equips students with skills to enhance interpersonal relationships and communication skills within professional contexts.
  • Sociology studies how individuals and society interact and shape one another. Students will develop skills in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data to make institutions and structures more inclusive for all.

To learn more about these majors and others, as well as potential career paths, visit Marquette University’s website. The university does a great job of describing majors and providing examples of what you can do with each major. 

Choosing your classes as an undecided student

Below are a few tips on how to approach choosing classes for your first year in college.

  1. Focus on subjects: Think about which subject(s) you enjoyed most in high school. Were there any activities you did in high school that exposed you to career paths you could potentially see yourself doing?
  2. Connect subjects to majors: Based on your answer to the above question, look for majors at the university you will be attending that allow you to take courses in different departments. If “interdisciplinary” is mentioned, you’re on the right track! For example, if I enjoyed my science classes in high school, I might look into Neuroscience. 

    On Brown’s website, neuroscience is described as “ interdisciplinary program bringing together neurobiology (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, development) with elements of psychology and cognitive science, as well as mathematical and physical principles involved in modeling neural systems.” Wow! Already, in that description, so many different fields are mentioned.

  3. Look at required courses for majors: Once you identify a major that interests you, look into its required courses. Following the neuroscience example from above, I see that I can take classes in the following departments that all count towards neuroscience: Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Public Health, Cognitive Linguistics & Psychological Sciences, Sociology, and Education.
  4. Choose your classes: Once you select a potential major, choose classes that interest you in varied fields so that you can explore! Then, follow your interests! If you end up really enjoying the Biology class you took, take more Biology classes. Once you take more Biology classes, you may realize that you’re interested in biochemistry, allowing you to specialize further.

Don’t fret if you aren’t exactly sure what you want to study in college. Choose colleges that allow you to explore during your first two years. Do research on interdisciplinary majors that can serve as a starting point when deciding which classes to take.

Ready to research college majors?

Exploring college majors ahead of time can help you narrow your focus and get you excited about the future. With Appily's college major quiz, you can get a head start on the process by seeing majors that fit your interests and aptitudes. Just click the button below to get started. It's free and easy.

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