What Is an Undeclared Major?

advice for students
liberal arts
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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on August 10, 2023

At US universities, being undeclared means you can start your bachelor degree without committing to a specific degree program right away. For international students with multiple interests, an undeclared major offers time to explore and determine which major — and career path — is the best fit.

A female international student in a red sweater sits in class and raises her hand to answer a question

With multiple majors and specializations offered by US universities, it can be challenging to decide which major to pursue for your bachelor’s degree. It is completely normal to feel uncertain at first, and many students want the chance to explore different fields to discover what interests them most. If this sounds like you, starting your studies with an undeclared major can provide the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects before choosing your major.

Shorelight universities let you begin your degree with an undeclared major, giving you the support and tools you need to find your passion in life. Learn more about what it means to start your degree with an undeclared major, including why you might consider it, how it affects your bachelor degree progress, how liberal arts programs can help you find your major, and the pros and cons of not declaring your major.

What Is an Undeclared Major?

Enrolling with an undeclared major indicates that you have not yet chosen your major and are currently exploring your options. 

With an undeclared major in your first year, you will usually have to enroll in general education classes in different disciplines. In addition to learning about a variety of topics, you will gain prerequisites and credits in these courses that can count toward your major after you have selected one.

Most Shorelight universities allow international students to study with an undeclared major for at least one year, or two academic semesters. This gives you plenty of time to experiment with a variety of different disciplines and explore your interests. This is especially helpful if you feel you did not have many opportunities to study different subjects in high school. 

How Does an Undeclared Major Affect Your Bachelor Degree?

Choosing your major is an important decision that determines your area of study for your bachelor’s degree, likely your master’s degree, and can even define your future career options. Starting college with an undeclared major can give you the time you need to choose a major that truly interests you and matches your goals. 

Shorelight advisors can help plan out your first year of study before you enroll in classes. You will be shown a complete list of courses offered by the university to help you select which ones to take while figuring out your major. Depending on class requirements and the policies of the university, you can attend introductory-level classes to gain some idea of what it might be like to major in different fields. 

As some of these courses may not apply to your selected major, your degree can be delayed if you do not plan carefully. To select a major with confidence, an advisor can work with you to narrow your options for degree programs, such as a liberal arts degree, and create a course plan that lets you transition toward your major while you are still undeclared. This helps you finish your degree on time while still giving you room to explore. 

Should You Begin Your Bachelor Degree With an Undeclared Major?

Deciding if you should begin your bachelor’s degree with an undeclared major depends on your circumstances, career goals, and desired timeline. While many universities give you time to choose your major, you should make sure you will be able to complete your degree in your targeted time frame.  

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of starting with an undeclared major:

Pros of Being Undeclared

  • You have time to consider all your options and experience different classes before choosing the major that truly interests you.

  • By taking general education courses, you can begin building a strong grade point average (GPA) before you select your major.

  • You can prepare for your desired major earlier by taking prerequisite or related courses, helping you become more familiar with your major before you officially declare your degree program.

Cons of Being Undeclared

  • Depending on required courses and their availability, it may take longer to begin your major once you decide. Working with a Shorelight advisor early on helps you stay on track and avoid enrollment delays.

  • If you want to gain professional work experience while studying, having an undeclared major may make it more difficult to find jobs or internships as organizations may prefer hiring students with majors related to their industry.

  • You may not be eligible for certain programs or scholarships since many require students to be enrolled in a specific major.

Before you choose your major, carefully research the requirements, policies, and coursework at the universities that most interest you. 

Keep in mind that many universities, especially Shorelight universities, allow you to change your major early on if you feel it does not suit you. In many cases, this can help you decide between two close options and find the major you are most passionate about while still allowing you to graduate on time.

Siyu from China, a University of South Carolina alum, did just that. He started as an economics major but ended up switching to media arts for his degree. “I chose media arts because [it was] [my] true interest and passion,” he said. “I finally decided to switch my major, and it really [was] a huge step for me when I look back.” 

Additionally, while choosing a major is important, remember that your US university degree in itself often carries a strong reputation for excellence, regardless of the degree program. American University, Auburn University, and Gonzaga University, for example, are top 100-ranked universities* that represent overall excellence, no matter the major. With a degree from a prestigious accredited university, your studies will open doors and provide opportunities — even if you start off undeclared!  

Shorelight advisors are always ready to help you explore your options for majors and degree programs, so you can find what you are truly passionate about and succeed both in the US and anywhere in the world. 

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*U.S. News & World Report, 2021