Undeclared/Undecided students are a large, heterogeneous group. They vary in age, maturity, academic preparedness and degree of professional knowledge. Some students follow the typical path of social and intellectual development while others struggle to find a sense of identity and lack decision-making skills. Part of working with undecided students is to provide them proper support and guidance, to help them learn to take educational initiative and become accountable for their own learning.
One of the most important skills these students need to learn is resourcefulness. As their advisor, it is vital that you help them explore educational opportunities, modeling how successful students find answers to questions and interact with college representatives and resources. This may mean discussing the majors and minors offered at Linfield and demonstrating how to find the requirements of any given major in the catalog or online. It may also mean asking students what interests them and having them read a few departmental descriptions in the catalog. As you work with these students, ask open-ended questions in order to draw out information that will be helpful in their academic planning.
Often undecided students become overwhelmed when making academic decisions because they strongly believe that their major/minor is directly linked to their future career. As their advisor, it is important that you talk about the connection between academic disciplines and careers, encouraging them to study something they enjoy rather than focusing on what will prepare them for a career. It is also helpful to discuss with students the connections between different disciplines, the skills students obtain in their liberal arts education, and how applicable those skills are in the workforce.
Help students develop an educational plan by suggesting some lower-level LC courses through which they could “try out” areas of interest and subjects that could be possible majors or minors. It is helpful to keep a list of students’ interests in their file to refer to during follow-up advising sessions. As interests develop, encourage students to talk with other professors and students majoring in the field(s) they are interested in. Also encourage students to visit the Career Library in Melrose Hall. There are numerous books and interest/skill inventories that they can use to learn about themselves as well. The Career Center may also be able to connect them with an alumni contact working in that field.
The key is exploration. Help students understand the importance of using resources and educating themselves about possible educational options. Although students are not required to declare a major until they have earned 45 credit hours, it is important for them to think about this decision early on in their educational career. Encourage them to use their first year or two in college to learn about the different majors and make informed educational decisions.
Keep in mind that some students may not be realistic about their abilities. For example, if a student struggles with math, despite tutoring, a chemistry or business major may not be a good fit. Or, if an undecided student (particularly a sophomore) is extremely hesitant to commit to a major and is experiencing anxiety associated with that decision, consider a referral to the counseling center. You could also offer to walk the student to Melrose Hall Suite 110.
If you have questions about working with undecided students, please contact the Office of Academic Advising.