Starting College Without a Major

When I applied to Illinois, I applied to the Division of General Studies (DGS). I was not ready to commit to a major, and major exploration sounded like exactly what I needed.

At the same time, all of my friends were pretty committed to one major and one career path. And what ended up happening?

All of them switched their majors at least once when they came to college. Every single one. From Music Education to Communication. From Physics to Psychology. From Biology to Biophysics, and then back to Biology.

Changing their minds worked for them, and being undeclared my first year of college worked for me.

When I went to Summer Registration in June of 2013 (waaaayyyy back in the day), I registered for what was kind of a weird mix of classes. I knew I was interested in Economics and/or a major in the College of Business, so taking MATH 221 (or Calculus I for people who’ve taken some calculus in high school) was a must because it fulfilled both Econ and Business prerequisites.

In a similar vein, I signed up for ECON 102: Intro to Microeconomics. And then there was an intro course all new DGS students were required to take, a Sociology honors course just for DGS James Scholars on global inequality and social change, and ENGL 200: Intro to the Study of Lit (the first course English majors take/a good way to get a taste of the English major).

My DGS advisor, a very friendly man who also doubled as a History professor, knew exactly how to combine my interests in the humanities and Business into a solid schedule while making sure I was still making good use of my time at Illinois. I think I knocked out three general education requirements that semester.

It was actually the perfect way to start college.

I got a handle of the pace and difficulty of a large lecture-style math class, and I learned I could handle it—with a lot of visits to my TA’s office hours. Every single week, I went, and I’m thankful for him to this day because he was so patient with me and helped me get through a class that had me constantly terrified (because I’m not only a mediocre math student but a dramatic one).

I also reaffirmed the love for Economics I’d already established taking Macroeconomics in high school, tried Sociology for the first time and found out it wasn’t really destined to be my major, and had a serious “Aha!” moment in that English class.

ENGL 200 basically sealed my fate as an English major, a major I declared at the end of the Spring 2014 semester. I was legitimately thrilled to attend every class. I just sat there and thought, “This is why I’m in college! This is it!” I loved the discussions, the content, and ultimately thrived.

From Readerly Geek

From Readerly Geek

It was cool and almost bizarre how one semester in DGS did so much for me.

So, don’t be afraid to be undeclared. Be comfortable in your own confusion! Because if you take the time to try different paths and do it in a smart way (with the help of a good advisor), you’ll find your way.



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