It can be difficult to know what you want to do with the rest of your life before even applying to college.

But entering college without a declared major doesn’t mean you’re behind the curve — quite the opposite, in fact.

Undecided Doesn’t Mean Lost

“It’s important to know that being undecided does not necessarily mean being adrift,” says Jessica Bane Robert, an adviser and assistant director at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Robert teaches a popular Mindful Choices seminar that specifically helps undeclared students navigate the college experience. “A symptom of our distracted, media-driven times,” she says, “is that we spend fewer moments recognizing who we are, what we’re doing and where we want to go.” So not being sure about what you want to study could really just mean that you need to take some time to explore your interests.

“It’s important to know that being undecided does not necessarily mean being adrift.”

Jessica Bane Robert, Clark University

Open to the Right Path

Taking a breath — and a breadth of classes — can help students reach a better understanding of what they want to do while ultimately making them well-rounded individuals and better job applicants down the road. Many teens enter college thinking they know what they want to do but, whether they’ve declared a major or not, end up shifting interests once they are exposed to the wide scope of subjects available.

This was certainly true for Stephanie Drahan, a teenager from Connecticut. She went into her freshman year at Skidmore College undeclared but leaning toward psychology. Psych 101 was great but so were her introductions to government, religion, culture and sociology. By exploring the vast array of subjects the school had to offer, Drahan was exposed to new ideas and disciplines that had not even occurred to her. 

After taking a range of courses, she discovered women’s studies, which she says “was not even on my radar coming into college.” She took her first women’s studies class in part to fulfill a requirement and says that looking back, “I would not be who I am without that course — it really did change my life.” She declared her major in women’s studies as a sophomore and is now an online account executive at an integrated direct marketing firm with a feminist slant.

“Going into college with an open mind indicates a person who is mature… and who isn’t afraid of walking into a whole new world with a few unknowns.”

Dr. Michele Ramsey, Penn State Berks

Sign of Maturity

While taking time to decide on a major may seem unwise, it can actually be a sign of maturity, says Dr. Michele Ramsey, associate professor of communications and women’s studies at Penn State Berks. Having advised students for 25 years she says “I’d argue that going into college with an open mind indicates a person who is mature, aware of the variety of options they may need to learn about and who isn’t afraid of walking into a whole new world with a few unknowns.”

Starting out undeclared can help, not hinder, your job prospects. Ramsey notes, “Employers need workers who are flexible and broad thinkers. They need workers who will make the best decisions, not the easiest ones.”

Jill Hanson, now a middle school English department chair in Los Angeles, has found this to be true. She initially thought she wanted to be a classics major, then declared as an English major and ultimately landed on a double major in English and classics after studying abroad in Greece. She explored a number of disciplines along the way, and she reflects that they have only enriched her career. “I never would have taken neuroscience,” she says, “if I had focused only on fulfilling my English major requirements. Now I use a lot of what I learned about the brain in my teaching.”

So think twice before listening to naysayers who argue that starting college without a major is detrimental. The experts agree — “undeclared” is just another way of saying “open-minded.” And in today’s ever-evolving job marketplace, flexibility and a breadth of knowledge can only help.

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2017.