Admit This

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: Is it a problem to go to college without knowing what I want to major in?

Answer: You're not alone. Many first-year college students don't know what major to pick. Even if they have a particular major in mind, statistics show that today's first-year student will change academic direction once or twice in a four-year program. In most college programs, students don't have to declare a major until the end of the sophomore year. Some programs can even wait until the beginning of the junior year.

Students who want to follow specialized technical programs, however, should decide earlier than the sophomore year. The reason for this is curriculum requirements. Take a program in electrical engineering, for example. At many universities, the school of engineering requires more courses than the average liberal arts major. Because of this, the engineering majors have to follow a preset sequence of courses that has little or no slack.

You may have seen the phrase "five-year graduation rate." What this implies is that many college students today take five years to graduate from a four-year program. The extra year can be required for two main reasons. First, if a student makes a major change in the junior year, there may be a need to go longer to pick up the new major's required courses.

Here's an interesting chart that offers a helpful statistic:

Did You Know?

The national five-year graduation rate for private four-year colleges has been about 58% in recent years. For four year public institutions, the rate has been about 43%. (Source: ACT, Inc.)

Notice the chart's footnote qualifiers for the Bates College data:

1. The 6-year graduation rate is the rate required to be disclosed by the Student Right to Know (STRK) Act. Six years represents 150% of the normal time to graduation for a typical Bates program.

2. An entering cohort includes all first-time, first-year students entering in the fall of a given academic year.

3. Cohorts may be adjusted for the following reasons: death, military service, church missionary service, federally-approved foreign voluntary service.

Another problem is the unavailability of required courses when the students need them. This happens sometimes when faculty goes on sabbatical or low enrollment numbers make courses unprofitable. This problem is so acute that some major universities offer a "four-year graduation guarantee." If you can't get all your courses in four years, the university pays for the rest, although during these recent difficult economic times, policies that were once in place may now have been revised.

Don't be concerned about your lack of commitment to a particular major. One of the joys of a college education is exploring new fields of knowledge and discovering passions you never knew you had. You'll gravitate to your major of choice in plenty of time.

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.