NACE Journal / May 2022
There is a seemingly endless supply of tools and tips for helping the undeclared student
figure out what they want to do with their life. This process is difficult for students,
challenging them to develop self-awareness alongside visions for the future. For those who
come into the university without a clear direction, the first weeks and months can be
incredibly trying. Perhaps that’s why only 20.3% of students who spent at least half of their
time undeclared make it to graduation.
Career professionals can help students gain clarity by guiding them toward their passions,
values, and places of purpose or meaning. Yet, even within these pursuits, there are a variety
of methods for helping students discover and develop self-awareness. The challenge is often
not just in knowing oneself, but in making decisions based on that knowing. The question
really becomes, “How do we help these students make their major and career decisions?”
MBTI AND DECISION-MAKING
In an attempt to better understand the undeclared population, 272 undeclared students
were administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This assessment, widely used in a
variety of circles, helps individuals understand four combinations of preferences. These
dichotomies separate Introversion and Extroversion (I and E), Sensing and Intuition (S and N),
Thinking and Feeling (T and F), and Judging and Perceiving (J and P).
The MBTI is based in Karl Jung’s theory of personality preferences, arguing that individuals
prefer different ways of interacting with the inner and outer worlds (I and E), different kinds
of information (S and N), different kinds of decision-making processes (T and F), and different
ways of organizing their external world (J and P).
For understanding the decision-making process, we looked specifically at the differences
between Thinking and Feeling types. While Thinking types prefer to focus on the discernable
facts and figures—the objective truths about a situation—Feeling types prefer to consider
how decisions may impact them and their communities—the subjective realities around
them in the moment.
The 272 students were taken from the 2017-2020 undeclared populations at a private,
Midwestern university. Of those, 212 reported a preference for Feeling over Thinking. This
means that 78% of this undeclared population prefers to make decisions based on the
subjective, on what “feels right” to them in the moment. The struggle for these students to
make a decision becomes clearer based on this preference, indicating that these students
are less likely to resonate with typical messages given by academic majors regarding their
UNDECLARED FEELING TYPES AND DECISIONS
Probing further into decision-making, we surveyed 84 of these students (72 Feeling and 12
Thinking) to better understand how they make decisions, focusing specifically on areas of
calling, major, and career. Their responses indicate that there are notable differences, as well
as a few similarities, between Thinking and Feeling types.
Thinking types looked for places where they could feel confident and capable. They focused
on their places of ability as well as what experts in the field could recommend. Conducting
informational interviews with those who have gone before them or those working in career
fields gave them greater clarity over their potential paths.
Feeling types, on the other hand, made decisions through verbal processing and reflection,
focusing on what they could understand from conversations with peers and advisers. The
role of community played a large role in helping them find their chosen path, demonstrating
the need for connection with Feeling types through their process.
Both Thinking and Feeling students found that passions offered them more clarity when
discovering places of purpose and career direction. These were further developed by
one-on-one conversations with a trusted adviser. Both types also saw importance in the
conversations held in class about these topics and on the time given to them to reflect and
process their learning.
HELPING STUDENTS DECIDE
Undeclared students need help when it comes to making decisions regarding major and
career. Developing a sense of purpose within these individuals can provide powerful
direction and meaningful growth in self-awareness. Even then, students may need additional
help making decisions based on what they know. For the majority of this population, more
attention to the subjective is necessary in helping them commit with confidence to a chosen
Based on this understanding, we believe there are four places to focus on when guiding
undeclared students to their majors and future careers.
Passions: Passions are a common place of meaning for Thinking and Feeling students when
considering their future plans. Help students discover passions by identifying places of
“flow.” Ask them to think about times when they lost all sense of time and just enjoyed what
they were doing. Help them identify what they would be willing to sacrifice in terms of time,
money, and energy to see accomplished in the world.
Discussion: Holding intentional conversations with undeclared students can help them
reflect and process through places of self-awareness and articulate what they are feeling
about a situation. Challenge them to identify their emotions and connect them to what they
have felt when finding confidence in past situations. Put together small groups of undeclared
students to create a community of learning to extend this opportunity for connection.
One-on-one conversations: While large- and small-group conversations are important and
valuable for these students, conversations with a mentor or respected adviser can go a long
way to giving them additional clarity. Give them affirmation and reassurance to help support
their growing feelings of direction. Offer encouragement and gentle challenge that tap into
their ability to make decisions in the moment.
Reflection: Feeling types need time to better understand how they process the information
at hand. Encourage them to journal about how they feel about any given path, to
intentionally reflect on their decision, rather than waiting for their trusted “gut instinct” to
While not every undeclared student is a Feeling type, our research has been showing a strong
and stable trend in that direction. Addressing this population’s unique needs is a special
opportunity that can help an underserved population better understand who they are and
what they want to do in the world. It has the potential to demonstrate the value career
services work to the realm of retention and persistence. Beyond that, we will serve our
students more directly as we offer more personalized service to their Feeling-oriented needs.
Yue, H., & Fu, X. (2017). Rethinking graduation and time to degree: A fresh perspective.
Research in Higher Education, 58(2), 184–213. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-016-9420-4
Published in, and reproduced with permission from, NACE, the national association for colleges and educators - naceweb.com