How Do I Choose a Major For My College Applications?

Choosing a major to write about in your college applications is important, but we’ll get to that in a moment. What’s way more important to understand is that it’s completely, totally, absolutely normal to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. At 17 or 18, it’s rare to have everything figured out. It’s rare to have everything figured out, ever. You might have goals and ideas, and those goals and ideas might change more than once. That’s fine, too. Most of the students we work with panic when they tell them they have to choose a major before writing their supplement, so you’re not alone if trying to choose yours is causing you stress. We understand how scary it sounds, but it’s an effective application strategy and there are multiple reasons why:

Admissions counselors like accepting students with a plan because they feel they don’t have to worry about them. Someone who has taken the time to think through the specificities of their major, admissions counselors assume, will probably graduate on time. These students won’t switch majors 4 times, take a semester off, and graduate in 6 years. And colleges care a lot about their four-year graduation rate. Admissions counselors therefore look for any signal that students are going to stay the course, stay focused, and graduate in four years. When students apply as undecided, that’s slightly a red flag their book.

Admissions counselors are also trying to build a well-rounded class. If everyone who applies is undecided, it’s very hard to know how to balance the class. They want certain percentages for each major, so this is valuable information to them. We are in no way suggesting that you try to predict what they want. Selecting a major you don’t actually vibe with to fill a need in admissions in a surefire way of getting rejected. Do not @ us.

So, one of the ways colleges gauge student interest in their particular school is by asking a variant of the “Why Us” question. They might use flowery and unnecessary language, but what they’re really asking is why do you want to go here, and not anywhere else. They want to know why X school the best place for you to further your education. And that’s where picking a major comes in, and the perfect time for you to wax poetic about your love of Biology.

IMPORTANT: No one is going to hold you to the major that you write about in your supplement. Think of this is a research exercise meant to explore your potential interests, not set your future in stone. Once you’re admitted, you can major in whatever you want. But you need to pick a major to write about it, and the rest of this post will tell you how to do that.

In case it wasn’t made clear before, and one more time for those of you in the back: you absolutely must pick a major to write about in your supplement. Writing about how you’re undecided and ~open to the possibilities of the future~ is not an option. One of our writers went that route many years ago when applying to Pepperdine, and graduated from another school four years later. Trust us, it doesn’t work. And again, you don’t have to stick with it. You should start by figuring out what you like. Ask yourself:

·      What classes in high school do I love the most?

·      What classes do I hate?

·      What do I read during my free time? What news topics do I gravitate towards?

·      What projects have I worked on that I actually enjoyed?

·      What academic clubs am I a part of?

For two reasons, it’s pretty important to start by asking yourself these questions. 1) If you start your search by looking at every potential major offered at any given school, you’re going to get seriously overwhelmed. There will be majors you’ve never even heard of, and majors that will bore you to death. 2) The major that you pick should make sense within the context of the rest of your application.

While it’s true that you probably (hopefully) have a multitude of things that you’re interested in and would like to take classes on, you can’t major in everything. So let’s say you love Physics class and are on the robotics team, you might want to check out the engineering programs. Or you like AP English and started a book club, you’d head over to the humanities section of the website.

Gather up a list of your academic interests and extracurricular activities, then do your best to match them to the available programs at the school you’re applying to. When you write about why you want to major in Linguistics, you need to back it up with examples of why you’re interested in and qualified for that major. That’s why you can’t pick something random.  

And once you start writing, be specific. Especially with broader majors such as English that are offered at every school. You’re not just explaining why you want to major in Math, it’s why you want to major in Math at Cornell. That’s when you’ll go dig deeper and find specific classes, programs, and opportunities that are only available at the school you’re applying to.

Most people don’t think of research as fun, but you should be excited when you’re looking through the program pages. If you’re bored to tears, then you’re not looking at the right major. You should give yourself an ample amount of time to look through the offerings, because it will make writing the supplement that much easier.

We walk our clients through the research process. Contact us here if you want to work with someone one-on-one.