Undecided or Declaring a Major–Does it Matter?

As you research and visit prospective colleges, its important to understand how major choice impacts first year admission. Every college handles the admission and application process differently (life would be so much easier if it was standarized). But for many colleges, what you major in and how competitive that major is can have a big impact on the admission process.

There are typically four ways a college may use major in the admissions process. Some colleges require you to declare a major on your application and you are applying specifically to that major. You can often list a second major in case you are not admitted to your first choice. There are often majors that are very competitive (engineering, nursing, computer science, business). These colleges will be looking at your high school transcript for coursework that would prepare you for this major. They will also typically look at activities to see if you have explored this major or demonstrated an interest in the field. They may even have a supplmental essay asking “Why This Major”.

Some colleges will have you declare your intended major, but you are applying to the college or the university, not a specific major. You enter the university as “pre-business” or “pre-math”, take prerequisite courses your first year, maintain a specific GPA and are then admitted to your major as a sophomore. Colleges will be looking at your academic preparation in high school to see that you challenged yourself, took classes that will prepare you for college level work and that you had activities where you demonstrated growth, involvement and leadership.

Some colleges have the above process but you can also be considered for a direct admit to your major. There may be a formal application for this. Or based on your grades, test scores (if considered) and coursework, you are offered a “direct admission” to your major without a seperate application. You typically receive a letter indicating you are a direct admit that explains any benefits to direct admission.

Some colleges, especially smaller liberal arts colleges, often don’t have you declare a major until the end of your first or second year. Their curriculum is designed that it is easy to explore, double major and change majors. They are looking at your high school curriculum to ensure you are prepared for the academic coursework at their college. They want to see activities that show leadership, interests and an indication you will be an activie member of their community. They may ask why you are applying to their college becuase they want you to demonstrate you understand the liberal arts and how their curriculum supports your interests.

At some colleges, the major you select really matters. For instance, the University of California system discourages picking a first and second major in the same college/school. If you don’t get into a business major as your first choice, you aren’t likely to get in as a second choice. They only go to the second choice to pull students off waitlist or if schools have space. Many engineering and nursing programs fill with incoming freshmen. Its very difficult to transfer into the program as a sophomore or from another college. So understand how competitive a major is at a certain school-you maybe admissible to the general university but will need stronger grades, test scores, activitities and courswork to be admissible to a competitive major.

It is important as a prospective student–especially your junior year–to research colleges thoroughly. Look at their website, read how they handle admissions, read about their majors, look at the curriculum and courses you will have to take. Attend a virtual visit or an in-person visit. If they offer sessions with your major or school/college (for example a session with the business school) attend it to get in-depth information. If the admission representative visits your high school, meet with them. This way you really understand how important your major choice will be.

And if you are set on a major, and it is a competitive one, start your college planning early. Using your summer wisely to get experience in your field can be helpful. You want to ensure you are taking all the required classes plus challenging yourself. You want to make sure you have clubs and extracurricular activities that show an interest in your major.

Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. You can schedule a free consultation here. We appreciate the student attending along with the parent(s) so we can set expectations and ensure the student is a willing participant in the process.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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