Must You Know Your Major?

College-bound high school juniors and seniors routinely field two questions from friends and family members: where do you hope to attend, and what major will you declare? Now that many seniors are close to receiving replies to their school applications, the remaining question needlessly causes anxiety for some, and in many cases for their parents.

As a former Director of Academic Advising and Dean of First Year Students, my strong opinion is that most 17 and 18-year olds simply haven’t had sufficient life experience to make a solid choice. Data show that 70% of U.S. college freshmen either don’t know their major upon starting out, or change their major once or even multiple times. Not knowing is therefore the norm.

With the exception of highly sequenced programs, such as engineering and computer science, most students have a great deal of flexibility in their curricular requirements. Those registered for general education courses such as English, math, social and natural sciences, etc, ARE making progress toward graduation equivalent to their peers with declared majors. Between general studies and the electives that most colleges allow for, students at many colleges can progress as far as the mid-point of their sophomore year before being compelled to declare.

Ultimately, some students will fall in love with a subject upon taking a course from an inspiring professor. Others will get a clue from an intriguing internship or volunteer experience. For those who may need help, there are some excellent free sources of assistance available in the form of academic advisors, psychologists and especially, career counselors. Campus career professionals are experienced administrators of assessments that can identify aptitudes and interests and connect these with programs of study.

So, future collegians, enjoy your senior year of high school, but don’t slack off in your performance – colleges do check year-end grades! One thing you need not obsess about for some time is your future major.

Lisa Ransdell, Ph.D. is a part-time college faculty member and educational consultant in the Denver area.  Her website is