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Fact or fiction? Applying “undeclared” or “undecided” gives a student an edge in the college admissions process. Fact or fiction? Applying “undeclared” or “undecided” hurts a student in the college admissions process.

The second most common question during the college application process is, “What’s your major?” (right after, “Where are you applying?”). When asked to those who know what they enjoy and what they want to pursue, that’s a great question and conversation starter. However, it becomes a nightmare when you get asked that question during every conversation, and you awkwardly mumble, “I don’t know yet…”

During my college application process, I got a lot of flak from others for applying “undecided” or “undeclared.” People would accuse me of applying “undecided” because I thought it would be easier to get in and then change my major to one that is more selective during the application process. (The real truth? I honestly had no idea what I wanted to study.) When Spring rolled around and I received some acceptances, people were still commenting on how I had “cheated the system” by applying “undecided.”

Talking to a lot of my friends who are going through the college application process this year, it seems like a lot of people seem to have the same misconception or are at least confused by how the entire process works. Does applying “undecided” or “undeclared” affect your chances in the admissions process? Are you actually able to apply “undecided” and then switch to a supposedly tougher major, such as civil engineering?

After researching policies and speaking to a number of colleges and universities, it seemed like the overwhelming majority is that applying “undecided” or “undeclared” neither helps nor hurts you. Perhaps the Office of Admissions and Relations with Schools at the University of California, Irvine put it best by saying, “At UCI the admissions process does not depend on the major the student puts. In our admissions process, we accept the student before taking into consideration their major.” For many schools, putting down a major is just to give them an idea of what people think they would study if admitted to the school. Contrary to popular belief, putting down your major does not lock you into that specific major once you enter college.

However, when I spoke to these schools, many of them mentioned that although applying “undecided” or “undeclared” would not impact you in the admissions process, there are certain exceptions when it could hurt you. These exceptions occur when there are specific programs that may require a student to dive into the coursework starting from the beginning of their freshman year or that have limited spots. By putting “undecided” or “undeclared,” you are therefore saying that you are not interested in these programs, so it is important to figure out these distinctions before hand. Some examples of such majors are the Business and Political Economy major at New York University, the World Bachelor in Business program at the University of Southern California, and the Kinesiology major at the University of Virginia, among others.

Conclusion: Fiction and fiction! Although a lot of people seem to believe that applying “undeclared” or “undecided” will help them along in the college process, the truth is it doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t really hurt you in the admissions process either. The only way that it could hurt you is that you won’t be able to be considered for a certain program at that school, but it won’t impact whether or not you are admitted into the school itself. Don’t be afraid to mark “undecided” or “undeclared” if you truly don’t know what you are interested in studying.

However, since there are so many different schools in the United States alone, many schools have different policies. Even though many schools don’t take your major into account, there is a possibility that a school that you are interested in might do so. If you’re unsure, contact the admissions office to get the 411 on whether or not putting down “undeclared” or “undecided” might affect you!

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Benjamin Din is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he is studying journalism and the mathematical methods in the social sciences (what does that even mean?). When he's not writing for The Prospect, he can be found on Twitter as he tries to build his social media presence. For more information, check out his website.

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  1. Pingback: The Arrowhead : Why Visit Colleges? 26 Apr, 2016

    […] be overwhelming to decide on a committed major along with the school. Luckily, colleges offer “undeclared” as an option when applying. It is recommended for students, as it does not hurt them on their […]

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