Listen to this welcome message from your instructor!

As anyone who works with high school or college students knows, working with undecided students is the mainstay of our work as career counselors and coaches. When I was the director of career services at a community college in PA, about 50% of the students I saw needed some kind of help deciding on a major.

Students face a tremendous amount of stress to choose a major, even before they begin college. “What’s your major” is the question most asked of prospective college students. Students who don’t have a good answer to that question often feel like there’s something wrong with them. The reality is that despite the pressure to select a major, most high school students are not ready to make decisions about a career because they have only been exposed to a limited number of occupations. Students may know about the field of education from their teachers and something about their parent’s or family member’s occupations. But beyond that, they know very little about the multitude of occupations available to them. With colleges offering hundreds of majors to choose from, high school and college students often find the process of “deciding what they should do for the rest of their life” an overwhelming task.

This course offers an introductory overview of the issues involved in college student indecision with regard to selection of major. The purpose of this course is to provide career counseling and coaching professionals with basic career development theories and practical strategies to help students/clients decide on a college major.

The primary audience for this course are college career counselors/coaches, and career development professionals in private practice who work with high school and college students and career-changing adults. At the conclusion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Know the most common reasons for student indecision with regard to selection of major
  • Identify the major career development theories used today
  • Learn about and apply the four steps involved in career decision-making
  • Assess a student’s readiness for career decision-making
  • Identify commonly used career assessment tools and their uses
  • Learn strategies to help students who are “stuck” in career indecision
  • Identify web and print occupational resources

This course has three parts for you to read, access, view, and internalize. When you are to read text, watch a video, or answer questions, this will be listed in red. As you move through the course you will track your progress by answering questions on a worksheet.

Click the button to download the worksheet and save it to your computer. After each section of the course you will complete the corresponding questions on the worksheet. You will be asked to complete an evaluation at the end of the course. One of the questions relates to the time it took you to complete the course requirements. Please be sure and keep track of the time so that we have an accurate reflection of the workload. You have 30 days to complete the course and submit your worksheet. At the conclusion of the course, email the completed worksheet to the course instructor. Your worksheet will be reviewed by the instructor and once found acceptable, you will receive a certificate of completion for 3 CEU clock hours. If you are ready, go to Part 1.

Characteristics of Undecided Students

Changing majors is so common in college, that it’s almost expected. That’s why many colleges designate a special major for undecided students to encourage exploration. About 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Changing majors is one of the reasons students take longer to finish their college degree. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, a protracted college career usually results in more loan debt.

Read the following article from the Penn State Mentor Magazine 

As you read this article, note how many students enter college as “undecided.” What is the “disconnect” that the authors refer to? What is the author’s suggestion?

When you have finished the article, view the following video below to learn how students go about choosing a major and some of the issues involved in career indecision.

After you have read the article and viewed the video, answer questions 1-3 on your worksheet. When you have completed all the requirements of this section you can go on to Part 2.

Intervention Strategies

Career development is an individualized process of establishing a work life that often continues throughout a person’s lifetime. The career development process begins in grade school. It starts with exploring your interests, learning where your strengths lie and learning about what others do for careers and work. When you enter college, you test out career options through classes, internships, and summer jobs. After college, you begin your first professional job, then your next one, advance in your career, retool, or go in another career direction. This process continues throughout your working life and even into retirement. Every experience you have throughout your life – through school, hobbies, work, and the people you meet, helps define where you want to go next.

The nature of career development is dynamic and can be influenced by local economic conditions and world events. Some research statistics claim that people will change jobs five to seven times, and occupations three to four times, during a work life that may last forty years or more. That is not necessarily due to lack of direction but in response to changing times or personal situations.

Watch the video below for a brief overview of popular career development theories and learn about a commonly used approach to help undecided students make a career decision.


When you have finished watching the video, read the following article to learn how to select the appropriate assessment for your client population.

As you read the article, think about the assessment tools that you currently use or ones that you are considering using. Are they appropriate for your student population? Are they supported by research? Do they require any special training? If so, have you received the appropriate training to administer and interpret these assessments?

In the college or private setting, students come to us in various stages of career development, or maturity. That’s why we see students who know exactly what they’d like to major in and others who don’t have a clue. In my experience, college students tend to fall into one of six stages of career decision-making:

Stage 1. Not a clue—no idea of what I want to do.

Stage 2. I have some idea of what I want to do but need more information about careers in general.

Stage 3. I know what I like but don’t know what I can do with it (don’t know which major, career, or type of job pertains to this interest).

Stage 4. I have it narrowed down to two or three majors but haven’t made a decision yet (or can’t decide between two majors).

Stage 5. I know what I want to major in but need more information about what kind of job I can get after I graduate.

Stage 6. I have decided on a major and know what kind of job/career it will lead to.

In high volume career centers, it is helpful, and certainly more efficient, to be able to identify where a student is in the career decision-making process and then apply the appropriate intervention. Not every student who comes into your office needs to take an interest inventory. Some only require occupational or salary information. But how do you identify which student needs a full battery of assessments and which need to get on the computer and research career or job descriptions? There are some standardized inventories that can do this for you such as My Vocational Situation or the Career Maturity Inventory. In my experience, I’ve found that students generally don’t like to take any more assessments than are necessary, so I’ve developed a quick informal method  of asking a couple of key questions designed to help me identify where a student is in the career decision-making process:

Typical Intake Questions:

Question: “What brings you here today?”

Response:  “I can’t decide on a major, etc.” “My advisor/counselor sent me up here, etc.”

Question: “Do you have something in mind, or are you totally undecided?”

If the response is something along the lines of “I don’t know,” “I’m so confused,”  “I just can’t decide,” “I don’t know what I like,” etc. then I start with an interest inventory. 

However, if the response is, “I’m trying to decide between X and Y” (or something that indicates that they have narrowed their choices down) then I do not give an interest inventory. Instead, I but delve into discussing (or ask the student to research online) the similarities and differences between the two majors and how well those characteristics match the student’s interests, values, abilities, etc.

If the response is, “I want something having to do with people,” I ask, “Do you think that you are sure about wanting to work with people (versus art or science, etc.)? If so, then we can explore social careers and discuss options within that career cluster. If the student is not sure, or expresses an interest in another career cluster area, then I give them an interest inventory.

If the response is, “I know what I want to do, I just don’t know what I can do with it” etc. then we move to a discussion (or research) of discuss job titles, salary, employers, etc.

Somewhere during the conversation I like to ask, “Why do you think it’s been so difficult to decide on a major?” The student’s response usually reveals other issues, such as parental pressure, faulty beliefs, lack of info about self or about the world of work in general, which I can then address appropriately either in this session or in subsequent sessions as appropriate.

When you have completed the video, answer questions 4-8 on your worksheet and then continue to Part 3.

Tips, Strategies and Resources

When a student leaves my office, I want them to leave feeling better and more hopeful than when they first came in. So at the end of the session, I like to emphasize that it’s “okay” if they don’t know exactly which major and minor option to pursue within the field of Biology, for example. When they get into their major classes and acquire more information, they will be in a better position to make a more specific career decision. If you’re working with adult students, they may lament that they should already be in graduate school, or know what they are majoring in at this point in their lives, implying that they are somehow behind. This is when I reassure and educate students about the nature of career development, that it takes time, and each person progresses at their own rate. Eventually, things will all come together for them.

If you work at a community college or a four-year college or university, you will undoubtedly come across unique populations of students. Watch the video below to learn some general tips for assisting undecided students as well as populations of students who have unique circumstances.

For ideas to help high school students decide on a career, read this BLS article about career planning for high schoolers.

To learn more about what it means to be a Multipotentialite, watch Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk.

Once you have finished viewing the video, please read the following article in Career Convergence, the e-magazine of the National Career Development Association for career planning suggestions for students with Asperger’s Syndrome.

How does the author suggest working with this population? Why are occupational assessments and career information not specific enough for this group? What are some examples of the strengths of this population?

You are almost done with the course.  Here are some additional tips to assist you in working with the undecided major population.

As a career counselor or coach, it is not enough to administer an interest inventory and come up with a list of possible careers based on your client’s interests, values, abilities, and personality style. You have to be able to go a step further and connect college majors to occupations. That means understanding how college majors translate to careers and jobs.

Connecting college majors to jobs in the work world is easier for students who major in professional degrees like Education, Engineering, or Accounting, but more difficult for students in the Liberal Arts. Many students think that a Major equals a Career. “Major” is an academic term. “Career” is the actual job or profession that one does over their lifetime.

Some majors have a direct relationship to careers:

MAJOR                           OCCUPATION

Accounting                   Accountant

Nursing                         Nurse

Education                     Teacher

Most majors have only an indirect relationship with careers and as a result, may lead to several jobs or careers:

MAJOR                           OCCUPATIONS

English                           Editor, Public Relations, Teacher, Lawyer

Communications        Broadcasting, Public Relations, Advertising, Sales, College Admissions

History                           Museum director, historical educator, documentary writer/editor, historical researcher, college professor, non-profit administrator, college admissions staff

Review the following link to see other connections between majors and jobs. 

Please complete questions 9-18 on your worksheet.

Luckily, there are many good resources available to help you connect majors to careers. You should spend some time reviewing the excellent content of each of these resources as they will help you develop your own strategies  as you work with students and clients.

The O*NET is a good place to begin researching careers. It contains detailed descriptions of hundreds of occupations. You can also access labor market information, training, certification and license information, related occupations, and related organizations. offers additional courses to assist in finding career information, including Occupational Information for Career Advisors, Labor Market Information for Career, Academic, and Workforce Advisors, and Realistic Career Decision making: It’s More Than Passion.  More information on these courses can be found at

Another easy way to find information about careers is to use your Internet browser (Google, Yahoo, etc.). Simply type “Careers in (accounting, automotive, animals, fashion design, etc.)” in the search box to access a wealth of career-related websites about a career of interest. Sites with edu. or gov. (education or government) domains are usually more reliable, but in time you’ll discover some .com sources that are just as reliable. You will also be able to find hundreds of videos on YouTube.

You can also view the excellent videos on These are designed to give you a quick overview of various occupations in the O*NET system. This site also has  as special section for students with resources and links for them. Here is the link. has a fun tool called GigZig that shows the career paths of real people. Simply type in a job title or career and wait for the results to display. In the middle column, you’ll see a list of related careers. In the left column, there is a list of jobs that people had before they moved into the position that you selected. In the right column, you will see future jobs – the jobs that people moved into after that job.

The National Career Development Association web site has a nice collection of web sites organized by subject area. Select the “Resources” tab for a list of internet sites for career planning, including industry and occupation specific career information.

How to Choose Your Major, (Greenwood, 2017) is available at There is also a helpful list of career and job resources on the author’s companion website at

Conclusions and Congratulations!

Hooray!  You have completed the course. Please double check your worksheet to be sure is complete and mail it to your instructor.  She will review and recommend that you receive your certificate of completion from  Please join us for additional continuing education.

Please complete the evaluation which is required by the National Board for Certified Counselors. 

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