Major Exploration Guide

Understanding Why Students are “Undecided”



To put it simply, students are undecided because the demand for employees to be college-educated is increasing, and there are so many more options today when it comes to selecting a major. As you’ll see in later sections, majors are ever-changing, and employers often don’t care what their employees have their degree in as long as they demonstrate the basic critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for careers in all fields.

The History

  • When institutions of higher education were first established in the United States with Harvard in 1636, there was one set prescribed course of study- liberal arts curriculum. Harvard was established to serve society in producing well-rounded citizens, and the goal was critical thinking skills.
  • With the passing of the Morrill Act in 1862, land-grant institutions were established in every state in the U.S. to meet the increased demand for a skilled labor force. These schools focused on technical skills, like agriculture and mining, and they were developed to assist in training citizens with skills that were deemed valuable as the country underwent transformation during the Industrial Revolution.
  • This rise in technical schools continued throughout the end of the nineteenth century and midway through the twentieth as technology continued to revolutionize the work industry in the United States.
  • Around the time that World War II ended, the Harvard Committee on General Education released a document stating that education should be for the well-being of the individual and society as a whole, thus creating a cultural shift in thinking about the purpose of education. This led the push for all citizens to pursue a higher education.
  • Around the same time, as veterans were returning home from serving, the federal government pushed for them to receive a college education at a lesser cost, and developed the G.I. Bill, which is still in effect today.
  • The federal government also developed the Pell program, which provided funding for citizens to attend institutes of higher learning.
  • While all of this was happening, vocational school was still somewhat on the rise through the 1970s. Also, employers saw the advantage of sending their employees off to college to receive training (as was happening once the Morrill Act came into play), and employers did not have to pay them while they were training them.
  • However, as more people attended college, increased support was needed, and student affairs was born.
  • With increased academic personnel support came an increase in the number of majors available on a college campus.
  • With an increased number of majors comes increased confusion as to what students should major in, because there is societal pressure to attend school, and there is also confusion as to what the purpose of college is.

The conclusion- There are so many factors that play into why students are coming to college as “undecided.” It isn’t just because they can’t decide what to study; much of it has to do with societal pressures to obtain a college degree and the hundreds of majors from which students can choose. Keep in mind that most careers don’t require students have a degree in something specific. Employers just want you to have a degree, because that demonstrates to them that you have acquired critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication skills.

When entering college as an exploratory student, General Education courses can be great for major exploration. Find a General Education course offered through a major you're considering. If you love the subject matter, you've made a huge step in finding the right major for you. If the disciplinary perspective is not one you want to pursue, no worries: you've still earned General Education credit needed to graduate. It's a no-risk way to explore your options.

Major Exploration