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Sarah Kyllo, Ohio University Proctorville Center

Sarah Kyllo.jpbIt was two weeks into fall semester when a freshman walked into my office during walk-in advising hours and sat down. 

“Hello, what can I help you with today?” I asked.
“I need to declare a major,” she replied.
“Okay, so you’re undecided now, what are you thinking of changing to?”
“I don’t know.  I just need a major!” she said, as she burst into tears. 

I gave her a tissue and proceeded to tell her that it was okay to still be undecided, that declaring a major is a process and can be a time of exploration.

Undeclared, undecided, exploratory:  whatever we call it, students often feel pressured to “be” a major, make a decision, clear a clean and direct path to a career, and become what they were “meant to be.”  Choosing a major can be filled with anxiety, uncertainty, exciting discoveries, joy, and rejection.  This sounds a lot like many other searches that students will face in their lives, from choosing a home, to where to live, to the process of dating.  This led me to create the idea of the Top Ten Ways to Date Your Major as a way to relate the major selection process to something most students are already familiar with. 

1.  Creating your Profile

  • Think about “who” you want to be instead of just “what” you want to be.
  • What qualities would you like to have others say that you possess?
  • What qualities do you admire in others?

2.  What are you looking for?

  • Just as in dating, selecting a major requires you to figure out what you like and what you     need.
  • If you had a million dollars, how would you spend your free time?
  • Colleges can offer hundreds of majors.  What are three to five majors that interest you?
  • What is interesting about these majors?

3.  Try a blind date

  • There are a lot of different ways to try out a major before you commit.
  • Take a class in that major, attend an on-campus event, take a workshop, join a club or student organization, contact career services to explore options in careers.
  • Say yes to new experiences while you are at college and discover new ideas.

4.  Finding “the one”

  • Sometimes people fall in love early and get married; some people date a lot of people and may never commit to one person.  The same is true of majors, careers, and jobs.
  • There are lots of different paths to arrive at the same destination.
  • There are lots of options, and more than one major may be the right “one” for you.

5.  Breaking up, it’s hard to do…

  • Even if you choose a major you think is the “perfect” one, it’s okay to still change your mind!
  • Each class you take is an opportunity to learn, grow, and change.  Don’t stay with a major you no longer want to be in.  Your advisor can help you.

6.  Don’t settle

  • Don’t just pick a major because you are tired of not having one or feel pressured to have a major in a specific field.
  • Do your research, keep looking, and keep exploring.

7.  Matchmakers

  • You are not alone; there are many people who can help you in selecting a major.
  • As in dating, sometimes it helps to get “set up”.  Think of your personal network: who do you know in the fields that interest you? Think of your parents, friends, and their friends.
  • Ask them abou their degree, what they like about their job, what they don’t like; this can be a good starting point to discover if this is right for you.

8.  Think Globally

  • The world has become much smaller through technology.
  • Utilize online media to research jobs or internships.
  • Think outside of the state or country: what are some jobs that make you marketable as a global citizen?
  • Consider studying abroad for a semester; this can help to make you a global citizen and open doors you might never have realized were there.

9.  What would your “dream” date be?

  • Think outside the box and dream….what would your dream job be?  If you dream of being a rock star, why?  What about the job would appeal to you?
  • How can that translate into a career?
  • Do you value free time, do you want to change something, how do you want to be remembered?

10. Commit

  • Declare your major after you explore the possibilities.
  • Keep growing and changing while you are in college, while you work in your career, and in life.  Change is the only constant and your major is a starting point for your future.
  • Look back on your experiences that brought you here, look ahead to the future, and enjoy the ride.

As advisors guide their advisees throughout the process of declaring a major, it can be helpful to ask the right questions, as well as be a source of support.   As with all major life decisions, it is a scary sometimes overwhelming process, but if advisors can frame it in a positive way, students may see it as an exciting journey, instead of a decision that makes them want to cry.

Sarah Kyllo
Student Services Specialist
Ohio University Proctorville Center

Cite this article using APA style as: Kyllo, S. (2014, March). Undeclared: How picking a major is like picking a life partner. Academic Advising Today, 37(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2014 March 37:1


# Alexia
Monday, March 3, 2014 11:05 AM
thanks for sharing; I love this! So many programming ideas come to mind...
# Calvin
Sunday, February 21, 2016 6:14 PM
wow this analogy explains the process and the correct approach perfectly.

I wish I had came across this article earlier but hey, that's life lol
- A1 CJ

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