What Does It Mean to Be Undeclared?

Many students enter college as undeclared majors. Learn what it means to be undeclared and whether it's OK to apply to college undecided.
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Kim-Ling Sun has 20 years of teaching experience, with 12 years teaching in community colleges. She is also a published poet, a community activist, and a writer covering topics related to the Asian American community and education. She holds an MA in...
Published on August 23, 2022
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  • Many college students start school with an undeclared major.
  • Using your first year of college to explore majors can help if you're undecided.
  • Only declare a major when you know for sure you want to pursue that area.
  • Declaring a major by your sophomore year can help you build a feasible degree plan.

Many students apply to college undecided, meaning they haven't decided on or declared a major yet. If the university accepts you, you'll be admitted as an undeclared major.

Some students may also be listed as undeclared if they haven't been admitted to the program of their intended major yet. An estimated 20-50% of students enter college undeclared. What's more, around 75% of students change their major at least once in their college career.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

So is it OK to apply to college undeclared? And should you do it?

What Is an Undeclared Student?

An undeclared student has been accepted by a university but has not decided on or declared a major.

There are many reasons why people choose to be undeclared, from wanting to explore options to waiting to seek admission into a particular college or program. Being undeclared is meant to be a temporary status that ultimately changes when you pick a major.

Here are some of the benefits to starting college as an undeclared student:

When to Apply to College as an Undecided Major

Here are some things to consider when determining whether you should apply to college as an undecided major or go ahead and declare.

You Are Truly Undecided

One of the most common reasons students apply undecided is because they truly don't know what they want to study in college. Instead of just picking a major only to go through the trouble of changing it later, many use their undeclared status as a way to explore different fields.

To help you choose a major, many colleges offer career centers that can teach you about various career paths and the types of majors needed to enter those fields.

You Want to Give Yourself Time to Decide

By choosing to be undeclared, you give yourself time to decide on your major. Some students enter college without knowing what they want to study — and that's perfectly fine!

Deciding to be undeclared can prevent you from wasting time and money on classes in a major you're not sure about. Giving yourself a semester or two to decide before you declare allows you to explore other potential majors as you rack up gen ed credits.

You Need to Boost Your Academic Profile

Some students choose to be undeclared for strategic reasons. It can help you start with a clean academic slate when applying to a highly competitive program.

If your resume or high school GPA isn't up to par, entering college as undecided allows you to start fresh. This can give you time to raise your GPA and increase your chances of getting into a selective program.

When to Apply to College as a Declared Major

Thinking about declaring a major? If the following points sound like you, you might be better off declaring a major.

You Know Exactly What You Want to Study

One of the best reasons to apply to college with a declared major is because you know exactly what you want to study. This is helpful when you have a passion for a particular subject and believe it's your calling.

This doesn't necessarily mean you need to declare early, though, since there may not be any clear benefit to an early declaration.

For example, if your high school academic record and GPA are weak compared to the typical requirements for entrance into your prospective major, you may want to hold off on declaring to help your chances of getting accepted.

Your Major Requires Courses in Your First Year

Another reason to apply to college as declared is if your prospective major requires courses that need to be taken your first year in order to graduate on time.

Additionally, sometimes certain classes are available only at certain times of the year, so declaring early can help you plan and find more opportunities to register for these coveted classes.

Your Major Offers Perks That Make It Beneficial to Declare Early

An additional perk to declaring early is that you may be able to apply for department-specific scholarships and grants (if available). This type of aid can be helpful if you need additional financial support beyond what you received in your financial aid package.

Depending on the program and college, you may also have access to specific housing set aside for those in your major. This can help you network and make friends with students pursuing similar fields.

One of the final perks of declaring early is that you'll learn about professional development opportunities and organizations on campus that support your area of study.

When Do You Have to Declare a College Major?

Most students are encouraged to choose and declare their major by the end of their sophomore year. This is so they can get their degree plan approved and graduate on time. A degree plan is an official document that stipulates all the coursework you must complete to earn your degree in your declared major.

A degree plan is beneficial to have because requirements for a major can change year to year. By having an officially approved degree plan, you likely won't need to take courses that have been added once your degree plan is in effect.

Is It Bad to Apply to College as an Undeclared Major?

Even though many students apply to college declared as a specific major, it's OK to apply undeclared. Generally speaking, in your first year, you'll mostly take gen ed courses like English, history, and math to get your prerequisites out of the way.

Before you declare a major, take time to research specific course requirements and what your career options will be once you graduate with that degree. Most colleges have career centers that can help you find the right career path for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Being Undeclared

Does applying to college as an undeclared major hurt your chances?

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Applying to college as an undeclared major generally does not hurt your chances of getting into college. It can help you if you do not meet the initial GPA prerequisites for a specific department or program.

Where it may hurt you is if you're trying to get program-specific scholarships in your first year. Failing to declare your major in engineering, for example, could make you ineligible for major-specific or certain institutional scholarships.

How many college students are undeclared?

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The estimated national average of students who enter college without declaring a major is 20-50%. Approximately 75% of undergraduates change their majors at least once before they graduate. So if you're not sure exactly what you want to major in, know that you're not alone!

Should you take a gap year if you are undecided?

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One option that some students who are undecided may consider is taking a gap year, or a year off from college, to help you figure out what to major in and pursue as a career.

A gap year can allow you to combat academic burnout. However, for some, it can be difficult to jump back into college after taking a year off. Weigh the pros and cons of taking a gap year carefully before deciding whether it's the best course of action for you.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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