College Search for D24, West Coast, undecided major [CA resident, 3.85, <$40k (FA unlikely)]

Looking for recommendations!!

First time through this with S21 was a bee-line for top CS programs. This time is going to be a very different search.

UW 3.85, W 4.2
7 AP’s plus dual enrollment ASL
Rigorous, but probably not considered the most rigorous schedule. Loves taking electives!
EC’s are varied, including club sports and volunteering, little to no leadership.
ACT - October, likely very good, 30+
Likely going to strongly favor a liberal and bike friendly campus

Budget is around the cost of a UC, so let’s say mid 30’s to 40 per year. Solid donut hole, not eligible for financial aid. We are CA residents and she is currently planning to apply to the following:

WUE and high merit publics - Univ of Utah, ASU/UofA, NMSU, Iowa State, UNR, SOU, Western Washington
Privates ???
Would go farther East for the right campus and environment

Has liked the vibe/campus at UCD and UCSC, not so much Humboldt. Not planning to do all that many visits before applications. Saving visits for final decision.

I am specifically requesting information and anecdotes regarding a school’s ability to help undeclared students. Looking for a challenging but not stressful environment. My current thought is that she could find her place at an honors program that offers a wide variety of small fast paced discussion classes for her to take while figuring out a career and major that could get her there. Some honors programs will do this better than others.
Sun and outdoor activities a huge plus. Rock climbing, skiing (water and snow), IM’s are all activities she would look forward to.

Majors that have been mentioned, include business, physics (but backtracked due to the math which she could do but doesn’t enjoy), industrial design. But it could change to something completely new next week. So an affordable public with a relevant honors program and an industrial design or straight design major would be ideal. This is all going to be a trade-off, so other than a realistic chance of coming in under 40k, we aren’t ruling anything out.

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Personally I think you can be challenged anywhere. I can’t speak to a school’s advising. All are different but most large I suspect are bureaucratic anti not strong. But it’ll depend on the adviser and or faculty she convenes with.

And I’m not sure you need an Honors College to do so. Not as you note do I think all Honors programs do so.

You mention mainly all large or medium large schools.

Would small or smaller work or really wants that large, full campus ?

To me, this is a budget question first and it seems like you have a large list already.

I’d question an Iowa State type tho - when you say something like this - Sun and outdoor activities a huge plus. Rock climbing, skiing (water and snow), IM’s are all activities she would look forward to.

Let us know on size etc. thx


@Gumbymom would know about the rest of the CSUs and UCs, but you can’t apply undeclared at Cal Poly.


My oldest attended UC Davis. It is a great community and is known to have a very friendly student population. That said, I don’t believe Davis (or any of the UCs for that matter) provides much career/major guidance to students who are undeclared.

Personally, we looked at some of the interdisciplinary majors that fit my child’s interest. He ended up choosing Cognitive Science and really enjoyed it.


Sounds like Utah (my D18 spent a lot of time climbing and skiing). She’ll get WUE, but unlikely anything more in merit. Still that’s comparable or slightly less than UCs (about $30K for tuition, room and board).

The Honors College has some interesting multi-disciplinary options, particularly the Praxis labs ( Also worth looking at the Lassonde dorm and maker space (Lassonde Studios | Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute | University of Utah).


I would take a look at University of Puget Sound. She may qualify for enough merit aid there to meet your target.

Also, if she is able to get into the Honors College at Oregon State with a WUE scholarship, it would be within budget. She might be interested in the Design and Innovation Management program in the College of Business: Undergraduate Areas of Study | College of Business | Oregon State University

EDITED TO ADD: Oregon State’s Honors College offers individual Honors advisors in addition to the regular academic advisors and the first-year Business program features one-on-one mentoring and requires a sort of mini tour of the different majors in the College of Business, so there are multiple places to go and people to ask regarding majors, etc.


For the Cal states, only Cal Poly SLO will not allow a Freshman applicant to apply as Undeclared as noted by @eyemgh.

All the UC and the other CSU campuses listed have Undeclared/Exploratory programs to allow students to find their best fit major so I do not believe an Honors college is a necessary requirement but may offer other perks such as Priority registration for courses that may be difficult to get into as Undeclared.

For some CSU impacted campuses, the Undeclared major can be more competitive than actually listing a specific major so that may be a consideration when applying. Ie. SDSU’s Undeclared had a 45% admit rate for 2022, but their Physics major was 64%.

Also the recommendation that is it is easier to switch out of a competitive major such as Industrial Engineering vs. switching into is true for many of the Cal states and definitely the UC’s.

Since you mentioned UC Davis, their Undeclared exploratory program is known to be very supportive however, she will still have to zero in a College and general area of interest when applying as Undeclared.
You may apply to one of four undeclared major options in the College of Letters and Science. These are:

  • Undeclared — Fine Arts
  • Undeclared — Humanities
  • Undeclared — Social Sciences
  • Undeclared — Physical Sciences
    In the College of Biological Sciences you may apply to this undeclared major option:
  • Undeclared — Life Sciences
    In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciencesyou may apply to this undeclared/exploratory major option:
  • Undeclared/Exploratory — College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

For the UC’s in General, if the major resides in the College of Letters and Sciences, the applicant is not admitted by major so they are free to explore and declare a major although a specific major can be listed on the original application.

UCSC admits into a “proposed major” or Undeclared but must formally declare once the student meets the major requirements.

UCR admits by major and will accept Undeclared as an option.

UCSB does not admit by major into the College of Letters and Sciences and Undeclared is an option.

Best of luck to your daughter.


I’ve been keeping a list of schools in the “design engineering” orbit for one of my kids who might go for mechanical engineering, but who might want something a little more like industrial design. So some of the ones on this list might miss the mark for you, but could be worth looking at regardless. It’s possible I’ve missed several western schools (just added Utah and Oregon State based on @Twoin18 and @CMA22’s posts above).

Design Engineering

Mechanical Engineering w/ Design Focus

Mechanical Engineering in general

Product Design

Industrial Engineering

Industrial Design

Cognitive Science - Design Interaction

General / “Multidisciplinary” Design

Design and Innovation Management


Oregon State’s engineering school also offers degrees in Manufacturing Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Materials Science, etc.:


I was trying to make this point. Not all advising is helpful, there are case where it can be detrimental. But a good advisor can be a great asset.

I have been leaning towards medium to large publics due to costs and to ensure a breadth of majors. I am hoping to get a few suggestions here for smaller schools.

I forgot to mention she would also like a college with an agriculture program. Not necessarily to major in, but the animals lift her spirits.

I was not aware of that restriction regarding cal poly. Best to know now, so thanks. Possibly off the list between that and the challenges changing major.

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Would love any additional feedback on honors. I had seen praxis, but not the maker space. I think having one on campus could be a huge plus for her. She loves to craft and having all that equipment and that community could be a great fit.

UC Davis meets the Agriculture requirement along with this: Craft Center

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Agreed. UC Davis, if it was a safety would make this search a lot easier potentially. But it’s probably more of a match or low reach.

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Looks like you’ve already got a pretty comprehensive list already. There are only two schools that I’ve thought about that aren’t already on your list.

  • Appalachian State (NC): Yep, across the country! But there are tons of outdoor opportunities here, including skiing, mountain biking, and I am assume rock climbing, too. It offers all the majors of interest, including industrial/product design. And the school is within budget, even before any scholarships come into play. I also suspect that your daughter could get into the honors program here, too. About 19k undergrads here.

  • Fort Lewis (CO): This WUE school is a smaller option, with about 3300 undergrads. No design major, but lots of outdoor opportunities and an array of various majors on offer.

If I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.

There is a maker space shared by the College of Business and College of Engineering at Oregon State, too, if that appeals: DAMlab Makerspace | College of Business | Oregon State University


MEs at Cal Poly get a large exposure to design even though it’s not branded as such. My son is an alum and he did multiple class projects that were more impressive than most student’s capstone projects. PM me if you want to know more.


Industrial design and ag and liberal and $30k. Can’t get it all. And an Iowa State is far from.

It does sound like UCD.

But I don’t see industrial design. You say “physics (but backtracked due to the math which she could do but doesn’t enjoy), “ and you’re getting lots of engineering suggestions.

But I don’t think it’s a reality based on that statement. Engineering is heavy, heavy, heavy math. You have to want it. It’s y half drop it.

I’m thinking a Col State, Montana State (not liberal), Arizona (liberal city), U Maine and would have outdoor access. Wyoming would be another - not liberal. UT Chatt for rock climbing. Arkansas - lots outdoors. WVU. These could make cost.

I’m not sure there’s a perfect school in this case. And advising is mostly cookie cutter. And most kids don’t use or need. But if you establish a rapport with a prof, you can get great insights.

I think you end up at a Cal State or high merit school - with your gpa Arizona or ASU won’t make budget (maybe Az with WUE).

An outside-the-box idea: Oregon State also has a small Cascades campus in Bend. You would not get the agriculture/animals and full range of majors that is available at OSU Corvallis, but you would get a small school right in the heart of gorgeous skiing/rock climbing/rafting territory. (Although Corvallis offers a lot of access to outdoor activities also, for that matter.)

The Cascades campus offers fewer majors, but they include Exploratory Studies, Outdoor Products, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship, among others. If she lands on a different major, she could transfer to Corvallis later.

With the WUE, cost would be about $35k, I think.


This is a fantastic help, thanks. It’s both re-assuring with the amount of overlap and informative with some of the new ideas.

For me specifically, I don’t think school of mines, University of Oregon or University of Washington will hit budget. Will definitely look into Santa Clara, if she is willing to sign up for the math, that looks interesting and in a great are for it.