Starting as an Undeclared Major Can Be a Great Choice

David Spight, director of undergraduate affairs at the UC Davis College of Engineering
David Spight, director of undergraduate affairs in the College of Engineering, is a national expert in advising undecided undergraduate students. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“What’s your major?” That’s the question everyone seems to ask when they hear you are going to college. So, you may feel pressure to have a major nailed down by the time you arrive on campus.

My advice: Don’t!

The notion that students have such certainty at the outset of college is clearly misguided when you consider that during their time as undergraduates, over 50 percent of enrolled students switch majors between our four undergraduate colleges, with an even higher percentage moving between majors overall. College presents an opportunity for all students to consider different paths and experience a variety of academic possibilities; in actuality, we should view all students as exploratory.

UC Davis offers you an option that, by design, allows for such exploration: You can apply for an undeclared major in three of our colleges and decide later what you want to do. 

No such thing as a right or wrong major

I want to reassure you: There is no such thing as a right or wrong major. During your time in college, you may discover several interesting options that appeal to you.

Given this, should you choose a major when you apply or select “undeclared” since you are likely to change your mind anyway? The answer is not so simple, but you’ll find that academic advisors at UC Davis are here to help you explore.

You may decide, like I did after taking integral calculus, that you’d rather major in something not so math-heavy. You may take a course that sparks a passion or interest that you didn’t know you had. You may find yourself on a research project with one of our talented UC Davis faculty and decide that research is the path for you.

Take your time and then decide on a major

Ultimately, you can take time to confirm your initial choice of major, revise it slightly — or make a change to a completely different major that may better fit with your interests, abilities, or broader goals. At UC Davis, students should make a major selection by winter quarter of sophomore year in order to stay on track for graduation.

If you enroll as undeclared, you have three colleges to choose from: Letters and Science, Biological Sciences, and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. (Due to the volume of applicants to the College of Engineering, students in engineering must apply to a specific major. No undeclared or exploratory majors exist for this college.)

Undeclared major options at UC Davis

Take a look at our college websites to see if you connect to their fields of study broadly before you choose. Here are your undeclared options:

Once admitted, students should work closely with their college advisors during the first year to explore possible majors and careers. In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, for example, you can participate in the Career Discovery Groups program, which includes a course that helps you to explore majors and careers.

Courses and seminars help explore possibilities

Moreover, many General Education courses will help you explore major possibilities while fulfilling university requirements. Students should not miss the opportunity to take a first-year seminar (open to all undergraduates) where faculty instructors share their passions, teaching on topics in a small-course format.

Eventually, students ask themselves, “Does a selecting a particular major matter in a career?” Certain career fields do require specific major backgrounds; however, employers overwhelmingly find more value in employees with high-level analytical skills than those with directly relatable degrees.

In the 2013 Survey of Business and Nonprofit Leaders by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers stated “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

Most importantly, whether you begin your college experience at UC Davis undeclared or declared, remember to take the time to explore your options as you create a career you find fulfilling.

David Spight is the director of undergraduate affairs in the College of Engineering. Prior to UC Davis he served as the assistant dean for academic advising and career counseling at the University of Texas at Austin, where he developed and managed an advising center for undecided students. David has a deep interest in advising undecided students and has been a leader in higher education at the national level on this topic. If you have questions, connect with him at


Subscribe to the majors blog

Primary Category