Academic Advising for Undeclared Students

Common Misconceptions and Advice for Undeclared Students

Being undeclared can and should be a very positive experience. Through self-exploration, and while you settle into college, you have the chance work with your advisor to uncover where your real interests live. Sometimes that discovery happens fairly quickly, and for other students it takes some work and time before the "ah-ha!" happens.

Students who are undeclared can experience some delays in moving toward declaring a major if their decisions are guided by assumptions that are faulty. In our extensive work with thousands of undeclared students, we have found these five misconceptions to be most common. If you, too, have had any of these misconceptions, we provide brief advice on alternate ways of thinking about selecting a major.

"To pick a major I need to know what career I want."

In truth, most careers and graduate programs do not require one specific major. With rare exceptions when you need to be licensed (such as teaching, nursing, engineering), studying any art, humanity, science, or social science discipline prepares you for many types of careers. Furthermore, people change jobs numerous times in their life - sometimes remaining in their desired career field and sometimes not entering it in the first place!

Advice: Choose a major based on what you love reading about, discussing, and learning. Being in a field you enjoy motivates you to maintain the self-discipline to attend seriously to your studies, and your grades are likely to be higher. Once you advance in your major, you can then work with your academic advisor and the Career Development Center to explore answers to the questions "What can I do with a major in...?"

"With the economy the way it is, I need to major in something that will guarantee a job."

It might be true that the demand for certain industries is hotter than others (e.g., health care, information technology, energy/environment). Watching media reports about student debt and the job market can place added pressure upon you to enter certain fields because of job-readiness, without regard for how competent you are in the field or how enjoyable you find it. It is important to remember that economies are cyclical and that, above all things, a degree doesn't guarantee the job -- YOU earn the job because of the entire package of assets you represent (e.g., grades, leadership qualities, communication skill, work ethic, maturity).

Advice: When job markets are tough, it is even more critical that you leave college with a general knowledge of the world and transferable skills that give you flexibility in the job market rather than studies that restrict you to just one main option. Timeless wisdom: The most job-ready thing you can do is to achieve high grades through hard work, but also take advantage of the opportunities that your major and extracurricular involvement provide for the development of additional skills.

"Having to choose just one major is challenging. I like so many things."

Good news: You don't have to choose just one thing! Choosing a college major does not mean giving up everything else that interests you. You may opt to complete one major and a minor (and they don't have to be related). You may focus on one major, and take other courses of personal interest or enjoyment. You may complete one major and/or minor, and engage in extracurricular activities that suit your personal interests. You could leave college a triple-threat on the job market!

Advice: If you like many subjects, list the top three or four. Identify just one of them (for the time being) that you can see yourself doing professionally, and start with that one as your major. The others you can develop through additional coursework that you take as elective credits. Example: You enjoy environmental issues, singing, Spanish, and keeping up on the news. You determine you might be interested in doing translation work for government or business. You can major in Spanish, join choral/band ensembles or take courses in music, and join a club, go to lectures/outings, or write about environmental issues for the Cardinal Points newspaper - or any combination of these interests!

"I'll just finish up my Gen Eds, take some introductory courses, and then decide."

All students must complete the General Education program, and most of the Gen Ed courses are taken within your first three semesters anyway. However, hoping that a major comes to you as a result of your Gen Ed program is a passive approach to deciding upon a major. Taking introductory courses is one way of learning about a major, but it is not always the best way; introductory courses are not representative of all aspects of a particular field.

Advice: Above all, it's important to stay active in exploring majors by thinking, asking, and researching instead of just waiting for time to pass. Taking a course in a major is more effective once you have narrowed the field down to a few that you are seriously considering. If you have some idea of majors you may be interested in, get clarification on which Gen Ed courses you might be wise to take. Since some major programs require specific General Education courses (e.g., business requires calculus), Gen Eds should be selected carefully while you are still exploring majors. Work closely and often with your advisor in mindfully narrowing potential major areas, which makes transitioning into a major an easy one.

"Everyone except me seems to know what they want to do with their life."

It might seem that way right now, but your friends are not as certain as they think they are. Saying you're in a certain major gives students some sense of comfort, but many of your friends are as undecided as you and will change majors once they are attracted to something else -- at least once. Often people much older than you, and in a career, don't know what they want to do with their lives. It's difficult to know at 18 how your life will unfold in 5, 10, 20 years. You don't have to know that now! 

Advice: Choosing a life path is a future and ongoing series of events. All you have to think about now is what you enjoy studying while you're at SUNY Plattsburgh. Ask your friends about their majors, but don't feel pressured into choosing hastily just because they have one. Keep in touch with your academic advisor by sharing your reactions to these misconceptions with her. By taking active steps toward deciding, you will find your way.

Summing it all up

  • There is not a one-to-one match of majors to careers, so choose a field of study that speaks to your interests and strengths.
  • Keep active in your major exploration - taking classes, talking to students and faculty in the major, exploring online, etc.
  • Pay attention to General Education courses that are required for majors that interest you.
  • Find out about the common career paths possible in majors that you have interest (by visiting the Career Development Center, 118 Angell College Center).
  • Be aware that you can take courses and be active in many areas in which you have interests.
  • Take advantage of extracurricular opportunities to build your professional skill set to supplement your in-class learning.
  • Know that you are free to change your mind about your major and about your career in the future.

Contact Information

Academic Advising
Office Location: Feinberg 101-103
Phone: (518) 564-2080
Fax: (518) 564-2079