The stigma behind being undecided

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Photo credit: Simona Rachapalli

“Undecided.” It’s a word that makes many people cringe, a word that trailed behind me throughout my freshman year at Northwestern.

In fact, it began following me long before the school year even started. During my senior year of high school, as I filled out college applications, I read advice online that advised me to pick a major even if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and to avoid picking ‘undecided’ on my application because colleges might interpret it as my disinterest. I decided to go against this advice and stick to the truth: I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Upon arriving on campus, I was quickly overwhelmed by the number of people that seemed to know exactly what they wanted to study and what they wanted to do with their major. During the many introductions that took place in the first few weeks, I grew tired of stating, “I’m Leandra, I’m from Belvidere, Illinois, and…I’m still undecided…” while listening to others ramble about their ambitious plans. How did all these people know what they wanted to do? How did they know they wanted to major in neuroscience when they had never taken a neuroscience class before? How could I possibly have a major picked out when there were still so many options to explore? I began to worry that I would never be able to decide.

While I had many people ask me, “Why are you wasting your money at a school like Northwestern if you don’t even know what you want to do?” or “Why don’t you just take geneds at home until you figure things out?”, the truth is that NU is an amazing place to do just that—figure things out.

As a Weinberg student, I, like many of you, am required to fulfill six distribution requirement areas (distros). While the people that have already made up their minds complain about these requirements and struggle to take classes outside of their majors, these courses allow undecided students to explore their options and take classes in different areas, all while receiving necessary credit. Because of distros, I was able to take a variety of classes—astronomy, philosophy, linguistics, sociology and more—all within my first year, showing me what I like and, perhaps more importantly, what I don’t like. Unlike many other schools that have specific required general education classes for all students, Northwestern allows us to do some exploring on our own.

As I tested the waters, another thing I learned was that I was not alone. While coming across someone that shared my same answer to “What’s your major?” was a rare occurrence—the numbers dwindling more as the year went on—meeting someone else who was undecided brought me a quiet spark of hope, letting me think, “I’m not the only one.” It was important to learn that there were other people who were undecided and that many of these people were in disguise. They didn’t label themselves as “undecided” but instead labeled themselves as “econ” one week, “psychology” the next, and “English” the week after. Almost everyone around me was still figuring it out, even if they sometimes failed to admit it.

As you look around, it may seem like everyone else has it all figured out, but you will discover that many other people are in the same position as you.

Of course, as the year goes on, more and more people will begin to figure it out. They will declare a major, or they will change their original major to something they are sure of this time, and soon enough, you will, too. Whether you come in as “undecided,” or you come in with a declared major that you change ten times, know that it will be okay. It is okay not to know what you want to study, it is okay not to know what career path you want to follow, and it is okay to change your mind. Take advantage of your distribution requirements, take advantage of your advisors, and take advantage of all Northwestern has to offer. Remember that although you are undecided, you are not uninterested. You are open-minded. Relax and enjoy your time because eventually, you will find a major you love.

[part of The Northwestern Chronicle’s Freshman Issue, Fall 2016]

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