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Is it Better To Apply Undecided or With a Major?

January 19, 2021 · 6 minute read

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Is it Better To Apply Undecided or With a Major?

Gearing up to go to college comes with a lot of choices. First, it’s about deciding on a school, then where to live, what dining option to choose, if you’ll rush a fraternity or sorority, play on a sports team, and so on. But, one major decision is still left: Will you declare a college major?

Declaring a major is easy for some, but for other students, it’s a decision that’s a bit up in the air. So, should they just pick a major, or go into the college application process as undecided? Here’s what soon-to-be college students can consider:

What It Means to Declare a Major

Declaring a major can have varying levels of importance, depending on which school you’re applying to. At some schools, declaring a major merely indicates an interest in a field of study.

It could be OK to swap majors later as well, and the major a prospective student declares on their application could have little to no bearing on if a student is admitted to the school.

However, at some schools, and even within particular programs, declaring a major is a much bigger decision. It indicates that the student only wants to attend for that specific program and could come with more weight on if the applicant is admitted or not.

Would be students may want to inquire further from the admissions department at each school they are applying to, or even reach out to the department heads of their prospective majors to learn more.

What It Means to Be Undeclared

Going into the application process as an undeclared student can be OK, so long as a student understands how it could affect their chances of admission. Applying undeclared indicates to a school that a student isn’t quite ready to commit to a program yet.

However, by applying at all, the student is still showing their commitment and desire to attend that college or university, which may matter most.

When It Makes Sense to Declare a Major

If a student has known what he or she has wanted to do since childhood—and there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of their goals—then go ahead, and make that declaration. Manifest it into the universe by saying, “yes, I will study this and only this,” and mark it on every application.

Of course, there are other reasons to declare too. Some programs require declaring a major for admittance. This is typical of particularly competitive programs. This way, admissions officers know who is serious and who isn’t.

Some programs within specific universities may have additional requirements or supplemental essays with student applications. For example, Yale and Cornell both have supplemental essays for students applying to engineering programs. UPenn even requires a separate application for its international business program, the Huntsman.

Students may want to check in with the college or university they are applying to and make certain their application is in order, particularly if they intend on applying to a rigorous or competitive program.

One more reason students may want to consider declaring a major is if they are going to apply for any study-specific scholarships. And, by declaring a major, students may become eligible for additional financial support including department-specific aid, housing, or professional development that are open only to specific majors.

When It’s OK to Remain Undeclared

Look, no one is going to fault a teenager for not having their entire life mapped out by the time they turn 18. A person may know they want to gain a higher education, but are unsure exactly what they want to study, and that is totally OK too.

The good news is, many schools don’t require students to declare a major when they apply. In fact, some colleges and universities require students to take a number of general education courses in their first and second year in school. This provides students with not only a well-rounded education, but also with the opportunity to explore new things and discover potential passions they didn’t know they had before.

Some colleges and universities even offer “undeclared courses” to help students find the right path for them.

Essentially, if a student is truly unsure of what they want to study, they should check “undeclared.” However, they shouldn’t use this as a way into a college or university believing they can transfer into their preferred program later as there is no guarantee that will happen. At which point, the student would then have to make a tough decision—pick a new major or transfer schools.

How Being Undeclared Could Affect a College Experience

Being undeclared has both its pros and cons as a college student. As mentioned above, it could afford students more opportunity to explore several different fields of study at once, meet people from across their college, and even potentially decide they want to study more than one field and go for either a dual major or a major and a minor.

However, there are pitfalls students should be aware of too.

By going into college as an undeclared major, a student may end up taking classes that do not count toward their college degree, adding up to both a waste of time and money.

Undeclared students may also find themselves left in the lurch when it comes time to apply to their preferred program. If they do not get in, then they may be forced to quickly pivot and find a new path.

Students admitted to college as an undeclared major may also miss out on important social aspects of college as well. If the student declares a major in their third year they could be entering a program where the rest of the students have all worked and studied together for the previous two years.

College is a surprisingly important place to learn to network and form life-long relationships, and declaring a major early could help. (If a student in your life needs a little guidance on how to choose the right college major for them, check out this handy guide from SoFi and share it now.)

Get at Least One Decision Off Your Plate

Whether you decide to go into the application as a declared or undeclared major it can be a good idea to at least ensure all your financial ducks are in a row to pay for that college education.

Being financially prepared from the get-go can help students feel more at ease with exploring different academic pursuits, or going all-in on their dream program, without worrying about paying for tuition along the way.

While in the midst of the application process, many students will look into their student loan options as well. That could mean working out a loan agreement with a family member or friend. Or, it could mean filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAⓇ) to see if they are eligible for a student loan from the federal government.

Other students may want to consider a private student loan via a bank or private lender. And unlike federal student loans, with this option the amount a potential student qualifies for is typically dependent on their (or their co-signer’s) credit score and income, along with other factors. Private student loans won’t be right for everyone and it’s generally worth exhausting all other options before borrowing a private student loan.

If a private student loan sounds like the right option for you, consider adding SoFi Private Student Loan to your college financial search.

Students and their parents or guardians can apply for a private student loan with SoFi in minutes. And, SoFi Private Student Loans come with no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. This means students can spend more of their efforts deciding on a major or chasing after their dreams than sweating the small stuff.

Thinking about applying to college? Checking out SoFi’s Private Student Loan options is a great place to start.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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