IvyWise Resources

Applying to College as an Undecided Student

By Alecia, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

One of the most compelling and authentic applications I read during my time as an admissions officer at Duke University was from a student who applied as undecided. His college counselor reached out to me earlier in the admissions season and explained that he was having trouble deciding which major he’d like to pursue — his interests were evenly split between engineering and entrepreneurship.

I responded that the most important aspect of the college admissions process is authenticity. If her student was truly undecided, he should apply as such and explain why. Additionally, he could provide further details about his various academic interests through the supplemental essays.

When I reviewed the student’s application, I was floored by how his intellectual curiosity shone in his supplemental essay. This student was fascinated with many academic topics and explored them thoroughly through his extracurricular activities. He could articulate how interdisciplinary his interests were, and he demonstrated outstanding creativity and integrity.

This student is proof of how compelling undecided applicants can be.

Should You Apply to College Undecided?

Yes! Will it hurt your chances of admission? No, and here’s why: admissions officers are looking for authenticity and honesty in applications.

Opting for an undecided or undeclared major allows you to begin your initial year of studies without committing to a specific academic program. This approach grants you the opportunity to explore diverse subjects and discern your passions and aptitudes through a range of courses before formally choosing a major.

Colleges look for students who will bring unique and compelling talents, experiences, or perspectives to campus. They need to build well-rounded classes full of students interested in pursuing a wide range of majors. This means that not only do they need students interested in their most popular majors, they also need students who would like to study some of the less common majors.

Because of this, you may be tempted to indicate your interest in a more obscure major to boost your chances of admission. However, if you do not truly intend to study that academic area, you risk coming across as disingenuous in your application. Honesty is the most important aspect of selecting an academic interest and of your admissions process as a whole. It’s important to stay true to yourself because inauthenticity in your application will be apparent and can sabotage your admissions odds.

Selecting a less common major on your application will indeed make you stand out in the admissions process — for all the wrong reasons. Applying to a specific major only makes your application compelling if you can demonstrate these interests are legitimate through your extracurricular activities, writing, and recommendation letters. Admissions officers see this as authentic and honest evidence that you plan to study that academic area.

How to Apply to College as Undecided

You should spend plenty of time in middle school and early in high school exploring your academic interests. Then when college admissions time comes, your application will provide a strong narrative that supports the unique ways you’ll contribute to your school’s community. If you’re already in your junior or senior year and still find yourself leaning undecided, that’s OK!

Here are some ways to ensure you still provide that strong narrative, even if you don’t have a specific major to declare.

Do Your Research and Build Your List

Academic interests may or may not play a role in the college’s admissions process. Some universities have multiple undergraduate colleges and require you to choose one to apply to. For example, Duke University requires undergraduate applicants to apply to either the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences or the Pratt School of Engineering. The University of Pennsylvania requires you to apply to one of its four schools.

Conversely, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does not require you to apply to a specific major or college. Instead, you declare your major by the second semester of your sophomore year or complete an application process for a professional school (e.g., journalism, public health, etc.) during your sophomore year. Some schools even funnel all undergraduate students into a single college of arts and sciences and require you to declare a major by your sophomore or junior year.

Because of all these unique structural differences in colleges, you’ll want to do careful research to ensure all the colleges you consider adding to your list have the majors you are most interested in pursuing—even as an undecided applicant. Next, you will want to make sure you meet the prerequisites for admission to specific schools or colleges within the university. For example, some engineering colleges require advanced math, such as calculus. Some music schools require that you submit a portfolio.

Despite applying as an undecided applicant, you may list an area of academic interest on your application that requires you to have prerequisites. Do your research to ensure you meet these requirements.

Articulate Your Interests

Many application supplements ask you to list your top three academic interests. Typically, one option is undecided, which you can list as your primary academic interest, followed by two other areas of interest. However, you can still list three areas of academic interest even if you are undecided among the three.

Most importantly, you need to be able to articulate your interests in a specific and compelling way through the narrative of your application. Whether you have a desired major in mind or not, all applicants have interests. The best way to articulate your interests is through one of the multiple essays you’ll submit (either a supplement or your personal statement) to share why you are undecided.

Make sure to provide specific areas of interest you may decide to pursue. This ensures you are demonstrating authenticity and thoughtfulness through the process but gives the admissions officer reviewing your application insight into what major or academic program you may ultimately choose.

Your college application should present a strong narrative that conveys who you are to admissions officers. If you are struggling to find an academic niche you feel is the right fit for you, applying as an undecided student may be the best choice. Contact us today to learn how our team of college counselors can help you identify academic interests that align with your passions and goals and the best-fit schools where you can explore them.

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