Majoring in Undecided: Advice from a Current Student for those Feeling Unsure about Major or Career Options

Majoring in Undecided 

As a freshman, the question I dreaded most was, “What are you majoring in?” Whether I was being asked by a classmate, a family member, or a prospective employer, my response was always the same: I would shuffle my feet and mumble, “I’m undecided.” Sometimes I would try a variation of my response like, “I’m still exploring,” or, “I want to be an anesthesiologist” (This last one was a lie. Biology was never my favorite but it felt good to pretend I had a plan). No matter what I said, things always boiled down to the same problem: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. 

When I applied to Binghamton in high school, I thought that I was going to major in Theatre. By the time I arrived for orientation, I was sure that Actuarial Science would be my career path. Luckily, Binghamton offers over 130 different academic programs, and for every possibility I considered there was a class I could try. I eventually found myself gravitating towards business and in Spring 2020 I transferred to Bing’s School of Management. A semester after that, I realized that I had always loved English and I am now double majoring in the two subjects. In the span of one year I went from having zero majors to juggling two. Despite this step forward, I still found myself struggling to feel comfortable with my academic choices. I could tell people what I was doing but not why. I realized that I had expected choosing my major to answer all of my questions about the future, and reality fell short of that expectation.  

In talking with the career consultants at The Fleishman Center, I discovered that the disconnect I was feeling was a result of the common misconception that your major defines your future. We assume that biology majors become doctors, English majors teach high school, and computer science majors program software. Part of the reason that I had been reluctant to choose a major was because I was afraid of boxing myself in, and once I declared as a business and English student I felt trapped. With guidance from our career services office, I learned that choosing a major is not the same thing as choosing a career, or even an industry. 

More and more, employers are looking for graduates who offer transferable skills (that is, abilities that are useful across a wide variety of industries). Companies know that they can always teach new recruits to use their computer programs and speak their industry languages, and as a result employers have switched their focus to finding employees who display skills such as organization, critical thinking, and ingenuity. Hiring teams recognize leadership potential in summer camp counselors, and an English major like me can apply their communication skills towards launching global marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. 

With the value of transferable skills in mind, I have learned to enjoy the present, remain flexible, and recognize that my education opens more doors than it closes. I may change my major a third or even a fourth time before I graduate, but wherever I go I will use my past experiences to offer marketable skills and a unique perspective. In many ways I am still “undecided,” but my future is full of possibility.  

*** For more information about transferable skills, check out The Fleishman Center’s list of Top 10 Skills

*** For an example of transferable skills in action, read about Morgan Stanley’s recruitment of non-finance majors here.

By Madeline Timerman
Madeline Timerman Graduate Assistant, Career Education and Training