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Discovering Your Path: Why Starting as Undeclared at Bellarmine University Sets You Up for Success


People often ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Teenagers are frequently asked about their plans after high school, including their likely career path or intended field of study. Some people appear to know the answers to these questions very early, while many more think they know and change their minds later. But what if you’ve started your college search and still don’t know? Justin Klassen, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, suggests that entering college without declaring a major can help answer that question. “To come in undeclared is inherently to say, ‘I’m looking forward to learning more about myself and the world and how I’m going to start to become the person I want to be.’ And the best way to do that is to try various disciplines, to see the world—and even oneself—from many different perspectives.”

Quick Facts

Bellarmine has seen great success from students who entered as undeclared.

  • Over the last ten years, the average number of students who entered Bellarmine undeclared was 12.4% per cohort. 
  • The top-ranking degree first majors for all completers were Communication, Psychology, Business Administration, Exercise Science, Biology, and Nursing.
  • The retention rate for second-year undeclared students is equivalent to declared students.
  • Undeclared students graduate at the same rate as those who entered with a declared major. 

“Whether a student knows, thinks they know, or has no idea what they want to do when they arrive on campus, Bellarmine has countless resources and support systems to give students a strong foundation,” explains Jackie McNatt, Associate Director of Career Development. “So many students feel pressured to have it all figured out, thinking these are forever decisions. But the decisions they make now are about where they want to start, not end, and we are here to help them discover what they are passionate about and help them find that spark.”

One of the resources available to Bellarmine students (prospective and current) is PathwayU, a platform to explore careers and programs of study. “Students take assessments to learn more about their interests, values, personality, and workplace preferences,” McNatt says. “It’s just about giving them options. There may be careers or majors they don’t even know exist. This will map out possible careers and majors at Bellarmine that could be a good match.” Some students may choose a major without clearly understanding its potential career pathways. “In those instances, we share tools and visualizations that show how college majors relate to professions.”

Students sitting in a classroom.In addition to PathwayU, Bellarmine’s Career Development Center created a 1-credit, 7-week course called BU199: Major and Career Pathways that guides students through self-discovery. “This course is a great opportunity for students to take some intentional time to learn what majors and careers align with who they are as a person.” Academic Advising collaborates with the Career Development Center to provide comprehensive support throughout the major and career exploration process. This partnership ensures that students' interests, values, academic pursuits, and professional aspirations are seamlessly integrated into their educational journey.

McNatt also encourages students to engage in diverse experiences and activities. “Take different courses, get involved on campus, volunteer, connect with an alumni mentor or attend our Mentor Knight event, job shadow, serve as an intern, get a part-time job because you won’t know until you try.” She further suggests that students consider joining a learning community. “Many students feel like everybody else knows their plan for the future, but being a part of a learning community where everyone around you is exploring too feels good.” 

At Bellarmine, learning communities are available to commuting and residential students and are specifically designed to foster a supportive and inclusive network, connecting students, mentors, staff, and faculty. These intentional efforts aim to assist students in the transition to college. “Learning communities provide academic and social support,” McNatt says. “Students connect with various stakeholders on campus, establishing a strong support network and fostering a sense of belonging.”

Deciding what you want to be when you grow up is a big question, and we’re here to provide guidance every step of the way. “For your college journey, it is much more important not to be certain about your direction at the beginning but to open yourself to the wisdom that will keep you going no matter what direction you eventually choose,” Klassen says. “Students are told from early in their academic careers that they should know something about what they want to do with their careers. However, this is not a question ever fully resolved in the scope of human life. We are always in the process of becoming. That is why we talk about not just preparing people for their careers but for their lives.”

Tags: Academics , Admissions , Student Success , Undeclared



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.