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Undeclared: Reflections of a Student-Turned-Employee

September 14, 2022
Headshot of Sarah Smith

By Sarah Smith ’22, Writer
York College of Pennsylvania Office of Communications

This story is one of a series on the Undeclared Program at York College of Pennsylvania.

If you had told me three years ago I’d be working for the same college I graduated from, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

That’s because three years ago, it was June 2019 and I had just graduated from high school. Starting my college career was something tangible and in front of my face, but the prospect of graduating seemed very far off. In fact, it felt so far off it seemed like I would never get there.

When it came time to apply to colleges, York College appeared to be the most logical choice. I’d grown up in York, I was a legacy student (both my parents graduated from York College), and I fell in love with the small campus size and student-faculty ratio. So, I applied, and soon enough, I was accepted.

There was just one problem: I was Undeclared.

Looking back now, I don’t see being Undeclared as a problem—rather, I see it as an advantage. But at the time, it seemed scary. If I had followed my interests from the beginning, I would have chosen Professional Writing as my major. But I needed some time to explore before I committed to anything, and the Undeclared Program allowed me to do that. 

One of the biggest advantages to York’s Undeclared Program is that it allows you to try on different majors before committing to them. Even though I came to York as a sophomore through credits earned before admission, I still needed to complete some of my General Education requirements. The Undeclared Program focuses on getting your “gen-eds” completed while exploring potential academic programs.

And the program doesn’t throw you to the wolves empty-handed. You have complete access to your Professional Advisor, and every Undeclared student is assigned a Peer Advisor. You meet your Peer Advisor during Fall Orientation, and they show you around campus, in addition to reaching out regularly.

This experimentation was how I tried on the Professional Writing major during a Research Methods class in my first semester. In Research Methods, I was introduced to fellow Professional Writing majors, as well as the faculty I would be working with. (Dr. Gabriel Cutrufello taught the class, and later became my advisor.) I learned the research techniques I would be using in my Senior Seminar class and familiarized myself with the program. 

Additionally, when you’re a first-year student or sophomore taking an introductory course, such as Foundational Communications, you are often asked to introduce yourself and include your major. This happened to me. But my professor, Dr. Emily Cope, knew I was considering Professional Writing as a major. So, she took some time during class to show me the benefits of the major and explain why I would like the program. 

I was sold.

During the first week of the next semester, I marched into Campbell Hall 200, the home of Academic Advising, declared my major, and walked out of there wearing the label like a badge of honor. Finally, I had found my people.

But my Undeclared journey didn’t end there. Yes, I’d declared my major, but I wanted to give back to those who were in the position I had been. I knew how frightening it can be coming into college with no major declared. Not only are you dealing with the effects of more freedom and independence, but you’re away from home in a completely unfamiliar environment, trying to figure out where your strongest passion lies.

I’d been there. I wanted to help.

At the end of my junior year, I saw an advertisement from Stephanie Perago, Coordinator of Undeclared Student Advising, about becoming a Peer Advisor. 

Peer Advisors assist the Professional Advisors working with Undeclared students—but they also do so much more. Peer Advisors sit in CH200 once a week to answer questions any student walking in may have. They send regular communications to their advisees (there’s a list) and are routinely available to talk to students who may just want a friendly person to bounce ideas off regarding majors.

One of the biggest jobs Peer Advisors have is assisting with New Spartan Days. During the two-week process, Peer Advisors work for six hours or more each day, completing various tasks. They lead in-depth information sessions for new students to ask any kind of questions they have regarding scheduling, classes, or general campus life. Each day, they’re also assigned to a specific advisor in dedicated advising sessions for students to create their semester’s schedule. Oftentimes, the advisor has so many advisees that the Peer Advisor will take on students themselves, and help them with creating their schedule. It’s a very involved job, with a lot of training required for it. 

It was the perfect opportunity for me as someone who just wanted to give back.

So, I applied and was chosen as a Peer Advisor my senior year. And it brought my whole Undeclared experience full circle. Never before had I known of any college opportunities that allowed current students to connect with other students on a professional level. It was an amazing opportunity to not only give back, but also to work again with Stephanie, who had encouraged me to consider Professional Writing in the first place.

After serving as a Peer Advisor in the Undeclared program for a year, graduating, and now working as the Writer for the Office of Communications at YCP, I can say with certainty that being Undeclared is one of the best decisions I ever made regarding my college career. Instead of entering college with a major I really didn’t want, just so I could have that label and say, “Yes, I’m this major,” I declared that I was Undeclared and took some time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.

I know that being Undeclared seems scary. I know that saying, “I’m Undeclared,” doesn’t seem like a label or something to identify yourself by. I argue that it is. Undeclared is a label, and you should be proud of it. Wear it like a badge of honor, like I did. Because taking some time to figure yourself out is never a bad thing.