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Heather Flaherty '14
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Helping Your Undecided Student
What's In A Major? Helping Students Who Are "Undecided"
Many students enter college undecided about their major. Many students who enter college as undecided students worry that they are undecided. Many students who enter college declaring a major are really undecided.
Some students may be unwilling, unable, or unready to make a choice of an area of study at the point when they enter college. If she can see this as an opportunity, rather than a problem, your student will keep many doors open as she explores and gathers information during her first year or two.
Not All Undecided Students Are Alike
- She may lack information about herself, possible majors, or possible careers. She may need to spend some time in college learning more about all of these areas.
- He may not be comfortable yet with the decision making process. She may not know or understand yet what is involved in choosing an area of study.
- She may be conflicted. There may be a conflict between her interests and her ability. There may be a conflict between her goals and her values. There may be a conflict between her goals and others' opinions.
- He may be afraid to commit and feel that there is "no rush".
- She may be equating a major with a career. One major might lead a student to many possible careers. One career might be approached through several possible majors.
- He may be apathetic about the college experience.
Does Anything Sound Familiar?
- "I have no idea what I want to do."
- "I'm interested in everything and I can't narrow it down."
- "I have some idea of what I'm interested in, but I'm not sure."
- "I want to do X but everyone expects me to do Y."
Once you begin to understand some of the reasons behind your college student's indecision, you can begin to talk to her about her interests, fears, uncertainties and dreams. Together you can discuss possible ways to begin defining some goals.
Recognizing that not all "undecided" or "undeclared" students are the same may be an important first step. Viewing an "undecided" student as a student who is keeping all doors open is a wonderful next step. Talking to your student about what he is thinking and feeling is always a good step.
Four Dangerous Myths
- Myth #1 - "I'll just figure it out eventually." - Just waiting and hoping will not necessarily help your student explore. Let her know that she will need to do some work to find her path.
- Myth #2 - "I'm the only one who doesn't have a plan." - Your student may feel that he is the only one who has not chosen a major. The reality is that more students enter as undeclared students than anything else.
- Myth #3 - "Once I've chosen a major, I won't be able to change." - Some majors are easier to change than others, but no student should continue in a major that he doesn't feel is the right fit.
- Myth #4 - "When I choose a major I'll have chosen a career for my entire life." -Help your student understand that a major is an area of study, a subject that she enjoys, not necessarily a career choice. That major may lead to a specific career, but it may not. Remind your student, too, that most people today change jobs and even career paths several times throughout their lives.
This Is the Student's Decision - - What Can A Parent Do To Help?
Be supportive of your student as she struggles with this decision. It is an important choice and for many students a difficult decision.
Don't pressure him to make a decision sooner than he needs to. (With the exception of some specialized majors, students don't need to declare a major before the end of their second year.)
- Try to help your student identify the "real" issue behind her indecision.
- Help your student develop a plan of action.
- Encourage your student to visit the Center for Career Development for information. The staff can help him explore his interests.
- Help your student understand and integrate any information that she gathers.
- Encourage your student to participate in co-curricular activities on campus. Joining clubs or organizations on campus will not only help him to gather information, it will allow him to spend time with students with similar interests.
- Help your student to clarify her values and goals.
- Reassure your student that he will find a path. Encourage him to have patience and to trust the process.
Some Helpful Questions To Ask
Don't ask every question you can think of, and don't ask questions all at once, but ask questions that might help your student think about his interests and goals.
- What majors are you considering? Why are you thinking of those? What do people do with those majors?
- What is your favorite subject? Why?
- What outside activities do you like?
- If you had a spare hour, what would you like to do? What would you pick up to read?
- What do you see as your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
- Where do you picture yourself five years from now? Ten years? What environment do you see yourself in?
- What resources are available at school to help you consider your options?
- What are you doing to work on deciding about a major?
- How can I help?