Undeclared-exploring is a track offered for students who have yet to decide what major they are interested in at Colorado State University.
According to the University’s admissions website, approximately one-third of students in each entering class are undeclared. Even more than this, Elliot Cooper, academic success coordinator and lead instructor for the Key Explore Program, said that over the course of their college career, about 50 percent of students will change their major or be undeclared at some point.
The decision for students to label themselves as undeclared can carry a lot of negative connotations. There are worries of not graduating on time and of the pressure of narrowing down what major is right for them.
“A lot of people see undeclared as being a deficit,” Cooper said. “I totally disagree. I think it gives students the opportunity to think about what, why and how.”
Cooper said he believes students should consider their unique stories during their search for a major they want to pursue. Exploring their values, strengths, interests and beliefs and seeing how these factors fit into the university setting and, further down the line, into career fields, is important.
For undeclared freshman Savannah Sherwin, the choice to be undeclared is giving her time to be sure about her major when she does make a decision.
“I’ve learned to become okay with not knowing and not being 100 percent sure,” Sherwin said. “I’m just enjoying figuring it out.”
Another benefit of coming in as an undeclared student is avoiding potentially switching majors. During Sherwin’s first semester, she took classes leaning towards one major and discovered it wasn’t for her. Now, she is able to explore other options without the hassle of switching her major.
For undeclared students, course IU-172, new student seminar: exploring major tracks, is offered to help students in the process of discovering what major is right for them. This is done through a combination of interviewing with faculty, communicating interests and goals, and completing a major and career research assignment.
Leanna Biddle, career education manager and professor for IU-172, wrote in an email that this course is meant to provide students with knowledge and experiences to explore different majors or career options.
“We openly discuss fears associated with choosing a major and navigate through best practices in making that decision,” Biddle wrote.
Biddle wrote that according to data collected in spring 2018, confidence in identifying possible majors increased from 71.3 percent before taking the course to 100 percent by the end of the course term.
“While data is crucial, as an instructor, I see a general sense of relief when students identify majors and/or careers of interest,” Biddle wrote. “When students are able to recognize their values, interests and skills, a light bulb goes off and connections begin to happen, which helps in the exploratory process. If still exploring, students are more open to communicating their questions and reaching out for help.”
Cooper said that even though students are undeclared, they can still graduate on time with others.
“We have a general motto for undeclared students: ‘Explore and decide by 45 (credits),’” Cooper said. “For most majors on campus, that’s totally fine. You can still graduate on time by being undeclared for a year and a half.”
Overall, Cooper said the decision to be an undeclared-exploring student gives students a chance to think about what fields or majors they would like to go into.
“The pros are that you have the opportunity to really take a deep breath and think about what you want to do and why and how you’re going to be at your best in that particular major,” Cooper said.
Kendall Constable can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kendall_consta.