To Declare or Not to Declare: 3 Pros and Cons for Enrolling as “Undeclared”

It’s your senior year of high school. All your friends are excitedly discussing what they’ve selected as their majors in college, and you find yourself stumped. You loved English and Chemistry in high school, but you’re not sure if that means you should major in either of them. So you start thinking, would it be better to enroll in college undeclared?

That is a complex question to answer, but before you try to do so, it is important to recognize that you are not alone in this contemplative stage. According to studies, approximately 20% to 50% of students enter college as “undecided.” Additionally, while it is often assumed that students who make early decisions about their majors are better positioned for success, and undeclared students lack motivation, there is research that indicates there is  no difference in persistence between declared and undeclared students. 

So far, it seems that undeclaring a major is a perfectly normal and common decision, and while this is true, there are multiple advantages and disadvantages outlined below that should be considered before deciding on the undeclared route. 


  1. Access to Advice

It is likely that you’re considering the “undecided” route because you have so many questions about your different options, but you’re not sure where to find answers. High school counsellors can provide generic information about the different departments, and friends that are currently in college can outline their experiences but maybe attend a different school than you applied to. An important advantage of waiting until college to decide your major, is that once you’re enrolled, you immediately have access to additional advising specific to that institution. You can make appointments with your school’s academic counselling office and ask about specific programs and their requirements. You also have the option of attending your professors’ office hours and asking them specific questions about their subjects and research fields. 

These are just a couple of resources that you’re able to take advantage of once you’re officially a student, and they can help with your decision. 

  1. Avoiding Tunnel Vision

As already mentioned, declaring a major prior to college doesn’t necessarily ensure success. It can, however, potentially restrict your ability to explore different subjects. While focus and determination are crucial for the college experience, particularly with academics, open-mindedness and curiosity are equally as important. 

Looking into the different programs your school has to offer, may be difficult to do if you’ve already committed to a major. Undeclaring however will provide you with a blank slate and enable you to explore subjects you’ve always had an interest in, but never had the chance to study before. As an undeclared major you will take courses you like and dislike, but with each course you will be closer to determining what you’re interested and skilled in.    

  1. One Less Worry

Transitioning from high school to college can be stressful. You’re adjusting to the intense workload, trying to make new friends, and getting familiar with the campus. Not to mention you may have moved away from home, and are trying to deal with homesickness. 

The undecided route can help this transition go smoothly by allowing you to focus on juggling your new responsibilities, without the additional stress of having to meet your major requirements. Once you are settled in and have established a routine and effective study skills, you can prioritize investigating your academic options and selecting a major.


  1. Scheduling Stress

While undeclaring a major may help lessen the stress of the transition in one way, it may add to it in another way. Establishing your course schedule for your first semester can be overwhelming. The catalogue for classes goes on for days, professor rating websites are giving you mixed reviews on many of your potential profs, and you’re trying your best to avoid eight hour school days. Many students find comfort in selecting a major quickly because it provides them with a rough guideline for their courses. They have an idea of what classes they need to take first, and can just go from there. The process for an undeclared student is a lot less outlined, and can potentially send you down that rabbit hole that is the course list without much guidance  

  1. Elongating your Degree

In the process  of exploring your options, it is extremely likely that along the way you will end up taking more courses than needed. The consequence of this, is that, in order to fulfill your degree requirements, you will have to take additional courses, and therefore end up elongating your degree. This means spending more money for an already expensive degree (keep in mind that the average college course costs hundreds of dollars), and elongating your degree can potentially disrupt your plans to apply for time sensitive scholarships, internships and graduate programs. 

  1. An Unbalanced Degree

In conjunction with the previous point, not only can waiting to declare a major elongate your degree, it can also intensify your degree. Every major has a specific number of higher level courses that you are required to take, and many students spread out these requirements over their semesters to ensure they have an easier course load in their final year. Waiting to declare a major may result in you cramming several higher level courses in the final year of your degree. 

Not only will overwhelming yourself with difficult classes in the final semesters of your degree lead to burnout, it can potentially affect your graduate school applications as many graduate programs consider the grades from the final two years of a degree – grades which may suffer due to your unbalanced course load.