(Orientation) Picking a major: What to do when you don’t know what to do

Cameron Gorman

When sophomore Danielle Watts first came to Kent State, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do.

“I consider myself someone that just has a lot of interests,” she said. “There’s definitely things I favor over other interests, but I didn’t know which one.”

Fresh out of high school, incoming students don’t often have a complete picture of their futures, or, for that matter, of themselves. Prior to entering college, students are encouraged to explore anything and everything.

While this can help to narrow the list for some, it can create a multitude of questions for others.

“I had a lot of different passions (when I came to Kent State),” Watts said. “Some people come in and they don’t know what their passions are.”

At a young age, it can seem like choosing one definitive area means a permanent sentence of ambiguity. This was the case for Watts.

“I didn’t want to second guess; to come in decided and second guess what I was doing,” Watts said.

Declaring early meant foregoing interests, or choosing one with the risk of regretful hindsight.

There is, however, an option for students who aren’t yet confident in one specific area of study: entering college as an exploratory major.

Being an exploratory major was created to all about discovery— not only in what you want to continue to study, but in who you are as a person. “I wanted to take time to figure myself out, and kind of find myself, before I just chose something”, Watts said.

In an environment where everyone has a major, it can be daunting to go without one. So often, majors are used as labels, classifiers, and dinner conversation.

“The only pressure I felt was …  that sense of ‘everyone knows what they’re doing,’ when really, we kind of all don’t,” Watts said. “But it just makes you feel that way.”

Danielle Bemus, a sophomore exploratory major, said she initially felt the urgency to choose a major as soon as she got to Kent State.

“I felt pressured at first,” said Danielle Bemus, a sophomore and current exploratory major. “But after a while, I thought that everyone’s different and maybe I just need more time—and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

However, exploratory majors are not expected to navigate these uncertain waters on their own. At Kent State, resources like the Academic Advising Center and the Career Services Center can help exploratory students, acting as a map in their search for answers.

While declaring a major is an important part of the process—and the ultimate end goal of every exploratory student—in order to select a proper major, it can help to know where you want that major to lead you.

Jody Patterson, a career coach at the Career Services Center, aims to do this whenever she sits down with an unsure or questioning student.

“My goal is to help the student connect to a career goal first and then determine the major that best aligns with that career goal,” Patterson said. “Many majors have multiple paths–which is why identifying the career goal first is so important.”

Determining a career goal and choosing a major can be accomplished in a multitude of ways, including self-assessments, individualized meetings, and other in-office resources available at the university.

“For many students, the struggle to determine a career goal is often tied to a lack of hands-on experiences. I encourage our freshman to get involved with volunteer opportunities or student organizations on campus,” Patterson said. “These experiences can often help them identify what they are passionate about—the populations that they would most like to impact or skills that they are developing through these experiences.”

Experience is also a good tool for determining the reality of one’s interests.

“When I first came to school, I was kind of set on being a music major. But then I spent some time in the music building,” Bemus said. “I wasn’t so sure that was right for me any more. I know what I like— and I think I have a strong sense of self—but  I just don’t know what I think I’d be good at.”

The types of hands-on experiences advocated by the Career Services Center often come in the form of classes in the areas of interest for the student, as they did for Bemus.

“I figured that, with time, as I’m taking classes (I think I) might be interested in … it may push me more toward figuring out what I really want to do,” she said.

The Exploratory Advising Center, located in the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, helps with this academic exploration by pairing students with an advisor who will then assist them in creating a plan toward declaration: selecting classes, discussing areas of interest and guiding through the confusion.

“We talked a lot about my struggles of being confused and what I wanted to do,” Watts said, on working with an advisor. “(Eventually), all of my interests aligned with the JMC or VCD (programs),” Watts said.

After consultation with an advisor and evaluating her career goals and interests, Watts declared a major in journalism.

The exploratory major was built to offer students a chance to fully explore themselves as individuals—their interests, goals, and personal growth included. As the changes which come with college mold the sense of one’s true self, the flexibility to look into the multifaceted nature of the future is often an invaluable one.

“Some people (say) you’ll come in behind, but really, you’re still behind even if you come in decided (on a major) and then you change,” Watts said. “If you come in (as an) exploratory as a freshman, you have so many (core classes) to get out of the way anyway, so it’s really okay to focus a semester or two on that before you really delve into what you want to do.”


Bemus will be going into her sophomore year still an exploratory major, but said she is in no rush to push herself into something she doesn’t enjoy.

“It’s okay to not know what you want to do,and it’s okay to be honest about it,” she said. “ I have spent a lot of time probably lying to people about things that I didn’t want to do, but it’s just okay not to know yet. There’s always time.”