Off the Board, Opinion

Reclaiming the value in being “undecided”

If you ask any of my friends at McGill, they would tell you that I have switched around my majors and minors eight times since the beginning of my degree. I started as an Environment & Development and International Development Studies (IDS) double major with a History minor. Throughout my three semesters at McGill, I have made countless changes to my second major—changing IDS to History, then Economics, then Geography, and even considering Statistics. It was not over yet—my next decision was to drop the second major entirely in favour of a minor in Management—and flip-flop the domain of my Environment major between Environment & Development and Economics & the Earth’s Environment. My minor underwent similar changes before I decided on Economics. 

It was a long and gruelling journey until I finally felt confident in settling on a major in Economics & the Earth’s Environment with minors in Management and Economics. I questioned myself so many times, aimlessly browsing websites about career prospects, and eventually taking a bunch of classes that, while interesting, now count for none of my requirements and are further extending my degree. Looking back, I wish that I had allowed myself a little more flexibility in deciding on a degree plan.

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the big question: What’s your major? And when will I decide on the perfect one? Picking the “wrong” major can make people feel unprepared for their future, making them miserable throughout undergrad as they are stuck in classes that they do not enjoy or find useful. As a result, students often feel extreme pressure to get it right on the first try, fearing the consequences of idling too long. 

Upon starting university, many people plan their degree around their career aspirations. But how many 17 and 18-year-olds fresh out of high school truly know what kind of career they want to pursue in the ‘real world’? Though there are some students who find their ideal path early on, many students do not have the same luck. High schoolers are just not as exposed to all of the career possibilities and life experiences that college students are, especially if their high school has a weak advising program. Furthermore, many students—like myself—attended high schools where class structures took a ‘Common Core’ form, where there are relatively few options for students to dive deeper into specialized topics to see how much they enjoy them. Beyond the broad knowledge acquired from ‘general-education’ style classes, many high-school students are not exposed to diverse areas of study. For example, somebody who enjoyed general chemistry in high school will not necessarily enjoy pursuing a chemistry major when classes get more difficult and in-depth, especially if they later find that it does not align with their career goals.

Most universities offer their students the option of starting their degrees as undecided, but only 20 to 50 per cent of students make the decision to do so. Many students pick a major upon entering undergrad, taking the risk that they will be one of the 50 to 70 per cent of students studied who change their major at least once. Rather than picking a major and struggling to complete its requirements while attempting to figure out what interests them, students might benefit from going in undecided, taking specialized classes in fields that pique their interest, and then picking a major once they have a more informed picture of what each field of study has to offer.

Stressing about taking classes for the programs I picked early on made it all the more difficult to gauge my enjoyment in a class or interest in a subject. Had I gone into university with an undeclared major—or at least without a concrete decision—it would have been easier for me to discover what I had a passion for and what I wanted to pursue further. Now, I rest easy knowing that I have settled on a degree plan that I am content with… or have I?

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