Undeclared students, you are far from alone


The Appalachian Online

The Appalachian

Oh, the horror! The look I receive from fellow students when I mention I’m undeclared is one of the most entertaining parts of not having a major.

Why is there a negative stigma surrounding being undeclared? What is it that makes others uncomfortable? Often my peers quickly recommend that I pick up their particular majors – it feels like an attempt to cure me of an ailment.

The word undeclared has a stigma that has been created by misconceptions. Some people believe that college is easier when you haven’t declared a major, but taking classes that will match a variety of majors usually means taking higher-level courses just in case.

A 17-hour course load of various subjects is not usually easy to complete, especially when you discover you don’t have an interest in what you’re studying. “Undeclared” shouldn’t translate to lazy.

According to the National Center for Education, 80 percent of students enter college undecided. That means about 2,426 of Appalachian State University’s 3,033 freshmen don’t know where their lives are headed when stepping onto campus.

Still, it is easy to feel alone when surrounded by friends who seem to have it all together. Two thousand of our freshmen can’t be doomed to fail. In fact, according to John Bader, dean and adviser from John Hopkins University, entering a university undeclared is okay, but requires strategic action from the student.

The fact is, most undeclared majors find their place halfway through their sophomore year. But if they don’t, it’s okay. For college students, knowing everything about their futures is inconceivable.

My age still contains the word teen, and yet I’m expected to know what exactly I’m going to spend thousands of dollars of tuition money on and practice for the next 50 years. With Appalachian offering more than 100 courses of study, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

The requirement that students choose a life path is drilled into them before they even enter college. Teachers create lesson plans to help students choose majors, and the first question family members choose to ask regards your path in college.

What everyone is overlooking is a major part of the education one receives in college lies outside of the classroom. An important part of the university experience is exploration. To paraphrase New York Times writer Cecilia Simon, “exploratory” should be the new “undeclared.” You learn about who you are, who you want to be and what you want to surround yourself with while in school.

Coming to college undeclared gives one the opportunity to explore career ideas they’ve never considered before. It gives them the ability to walk into college with open minds.

Students should be encouraged to keep an open mind rather than commit the rest of their lives to a specific field. They shouldn’t be bullied into making a hasty choice. There’s nothing wrong with spending a little extra time at school – even Appalachian’s five-year graduation rate is 67.7 percent.

So, exploratory students, be proud of yourselves for your honesty. Don’t panic. Take advantage of the learning experiences that come with college that are not part of the academic experience.

When writing “Grey’s Anatomy,” Shonda Rhimes said she made the characters interns because there’s something “horribly wonderful about not knowing what you’re doing for a living.” And it’s true. There’s something wonderful about this period of life and finding in it something meaningful.

Miles, an undeclared sophomore from Rock Hill, South Carolina, is an opinion writer.