How To Apply to College While Undecided

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Photo courtesy of Foster Cowan.

Surrounded by my demons, manifested as different colleges as the pressure to make a decision looms.

Foster Cowan, Editor

My whole life, I feel like I have been waiting to have a eureka moment when it comes to my future. From a very young age, we are asked the question of what we want to be when we grow up, and for me, the answer switched often: in kindergarten it was dog trainer, in fifth grade it was author, in seventh grade it was school teacher. But at a certain point in middle school, my answer simply became “I don’t know.” Since then, it has been a thought I’ve kept on the back burner. I knew I would need to figure out my career eventually, but I thought that as long as I did well in school, eventually it would come to me. 

Then I entered junior year and everything in my life began to revolve around college and beyond. I came insanely stressed trying to navigate the world of college applications without having even the slightest idea what I wanted to major in or pursue career wise. And yet after all this, I made it through. I am over halfway through applying to schools and, despite still being undecided, I managed to survive. I know the pressure to have your entire future decided by ninth grade is huge, but know that it is possible to make it through all four years of high school without having the foggiest idea. Somehow, I did it, which I guess makes me qualified to give my tips for surviving the college application process while undecided in your major and future.

Know What You Want, Even if You Don’t Know What You Want

First of all, one of the hardest things for me was not being able to search for schools based on specific degree programs. The easiest way to find a good college fit is to look for the top schools based on a specific subject: Top Ten Schools for Nursing, Best Business Schools in America, etc. Without this basic research method, the very beginning of your school search can be extremely daunting.  There are over 5,000 colleges and universities in America after all! 

That’s why it’s extremely important to find other qualifications that are important to you outside of a specific academic focus and use those to narrow down schools. For example, I knew early on that I needed a large suburban or urban campus, as I need to be connected to some degree of a city. Because I knew rural schools wouldn’t work for me, that was a huge way to condense my college list. Another thing to consider is the size of the school. Would you thrive in a very small campus environment or a huge, bustling one? You can even search based on geographical areas you like (weather included!), the amount of Greek life on campus, or religious affiliation. My point is, there are so many things to consider in a school other than your major. Just visit the website Niche and look at some of their rankings: best college food, best athletics, colleges with the best professors, top party schools, safest college campuses. Put some research in, and you will be able to narrow down those 5,000 schools to a few that are perfect for you, without even having to consider a major.

See For Yourself

My next tip is to tour schools! The best way to actually get a feel for a school is getting on campus and seeing it for yourself. The internet can only do so much, and after a tour you can pretty much know whether you can see yourself at a school or not. I toured three local schools: UGA, Georgia Tech, and Emory, as well as three schools is Washington D.C: Georgetown, George Washington, and American. These tours helped me so much to differentiate between the schools and analyze factors other than major in person.

Do Your Research

I would also recommend that you research schools that are specifically good for undecided students. Liberal arts schools often have very open curriculums, and some schools don’t have you declare a major until the end of sophomore year. Also look for schools with a very wide variety of majors (make sure that it is easy to switch between degree programs if you decide to) as well as schools with intimate, personalized advisement programs. The more extreme schools have no core requirements at all and even let you build your own degree (think Brown). There are so many unique programs that colleges have to benefit undecided students, so do some research and find the schools that are best for us indecisive folk.

A Little Lying Never Hurt Anyone

The next, and hardest, step is to find a major that you are somewhat OK with and roll with it. You can apply undecided for most schools, but that isn’t necessarily the best route. For a lot of schools you have to write an essay about why you want to attend said school. These essays have to be specific, and it is important to include detailed information about the classes you’re interested in and why that school will help you get where you want in the future. My advice: BS it. For all of the schools I applied to, I applied under International Affairs. I don’t think I will keep this major for very long, but it is something that I have some interest in and can write about to some degree. For most schools, switching majors is easy and once you get to college, you can take elective courses to figure out what you really want to do once in college. Just pick a major that you at least somewhat enjoy and use that to write your supplements. It will be easier in the long run.

Change Your Mindset

My final, most important tip is to change your mentality. Although not having a major or a dream school may seem like the end of the world, I promise you it is not. The school where you get your undergraduate degree is really not that significant, and getting a degree is more important than the place from which you get it or what subject you get it in. According to research from Liberty Street Economics, only 27% of people are employed in the field they majored in. This may be a bit extreme of a statistic, but the point it makes is true. Your connections and experience matter most when getting a job, and the major on your degree is not always make or break. 

College should be a time to explore multiple fields of study and discover new passions and interests. Use that time to learn about yourself, no matter what school you’re at or what major you’re in. Majors are changeable and schools are transferable! The application process senior year is not your final chance to decide these things, especially if you think graduate school is in your future. So, try to put rankings aside and choose a school that is best for you!