How do I choose what college to attend if I don’t know what to study?

Some people have a clear direction for their life and careers by age five. Others need more time. The final two years of high school can be a stressful time for many upperclassmen as they feel the pressure of needing to choose a college and a major which will be the perfect fit for them. Some of this pressure can produce unrealistic fears, or a snowballing effect, as if choosing the wrong major will result in the wrong college, the wrong career, and maybe even the wrong spouse!

Thankfully, research shows that all is not lost by going into college as undecided or even changing majors midstream. As Liz Freedman of Butler University reports, "An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as "undecided" (Gordon, 1995) and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation (Gordon, 1995). When looking at the statistics, it is obvious that choosing a major has serious implications for the majority of students, not just undecided ones. It is also important to note that "decided" students are not necessarily basing their decision of major on factual research and self-reflection."

So how can a student make the best decision on a college when he or she is undecided on what to major in? Here are some characteristics to look for in a college or university.

Find a school with a solid academic reputation across the board

One thing is certain, your undergraduate diploma will list a school's name. Make sure the college degree you invest four or more years of tuition into is one you will be proud of hanging on your wall. School performance, graduation percentages, student satisfaction, academic rankings, professor turnover, and accreditations are all readily available to potential students and will reveal the focus of a university and the colleges and schools within. While some colleges may only be known for one excellent department, finding one with a strong reputation across the board will be beneficial to students who change majors over the course of their education.

An attractive college campus offers many benefits

This may seem as a less-than-important trait, but the condition of a university's campus will also say much about the priorities of the organization and may help to forecast a student's satisfaction in the over-all educational experience over the years while attending classes. While visiting a campus, take note of a well-designed library, ample parking, relevant student center amenities, scenic views of nearby forests, or even a beautiful business school building. Aesthetics like these will truly enrich the time spent on campus each day.

Multiple student-life options enrich the overall college experience

A quick visit to student affairs or speaking to a representative at the school's rec building can be very helpful in grasping a college's activity/energy level. Some good questions to ask: How many clubs and organizations does the college support? What intramural sports are offered throughout the calendar year? What bands/speakers/comedians/lecturers has the school brought in recently?

There are excellent benefits of an accessible staff of educators

Usually associated only with smaller colleges, accessible professors and instructors can be found at all sizes of schools across the country. The option for a student to plan an office appointment with an instructor has many advantages: it shows the student has initiative and takes her course success seriously, it allows the instructor to know what concepts other students may be struggling with, and it allows a professor to mentor a student through course content and beyond. Instructors often work as guidance counselors as well, offering advice and opportunities for students to get a richer understanding of the subjects they teach.

Find a college which offers a plethora of academic programs to choose from

Some Division I universities which have been in existence for a century or more have such a large student body, campus, and experience that they now provide over 200 majors in 20 or more colleges and schools. This type of environment can be the perfect match for an undecided major as she does not have to sacrifice quality when moving from one school to another within the university. While many colleges do not expect students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore years, there is plenty of time for these students to experience a vast field of study and see what specialized field is right for them.

These are just five characteristics an undecided major should consider when researching colleges and universities.