College Admissions

Should I Indicate a Major on my College Application?

By Tonya DuBois

So many families are concerned when their son/daughter isn’t sure about their intended college major. Please do not fear. There is a whole world out there of subjects and careers that your 18-year-old doesn’t even know exist yet. In fact, 75% of students enter college undeclared. And, 30% of students who enter college with a major declared, change their major (at least once) during their four years.

If you are that student who just doesn’t know quite yet. Or, you have so many different interests that you couldn’t possible pick just one – it’s OK to apply undecided.

There are 4 key situations when you should strongly consider NOT indicating a major, and listing “undecided” on your college application:

• When you truly don’t know yet
• When you have a wide array of interests and skills and your resume/application reflects that
• If your high school GPA is not strong in the area that interests you most
• If you have no supporting evidence throughout your application that your intended major is truly something you are passionate about (relevant clubs, awards, coursework, part-time jobs, community service, etc.)

There are some situations when you should strongly consider listing an intended major:

• When you are applying to a large university and they need to understand to which college you are applying. For example, some larger universities may have schools inside their university, such as: college of arts and sciences, college of education, college of engineering, college of nursing, college of music, etc.
• When you have a long-standing interest, skill, or talent in a particular area and it’s clearly demonstrated through your activities and coursework
• If you have a GENUINE interest (with supporting evidence) in a subject that is not popular at a particular college. For example, the school’s most popular majors are math/science related and you want to be an English major
• If declaring your major early will allow you entrance into classes that would otherwise be closed to freshmen
• When major-specific housing or merit scholarships are offered

From a strategic perspective, sure…the most popular majors at a specific school are also often the most competitive in the admission process. However, they also tend to have more spots available. It’s important to do your research at each individual college to see if declaring or stating “undecided” is best for you.

The key is simply to be authentic. Is this your main area of interest or not? In most cases it’s easy to transfer or change majors and, at many schools, you are not even expected to declare a major until the beginning of your Junior year.

I do have one caution about declaring a major on your application – please be certain that you understand how easy (or how difficult) it is to do an internal transfer at the colleges/universities you are considering. This is particularly relevant at larger universities, where you may be transferring from their College of Arts and Sciences to their College of Education, for example. How feasible is it to make a change and will it cost you a full semester or year of time (and money) to change majors?

My parting thought is this….explore lots of possible majors and careers online, take online quizzes and assessments, and check the job boards for jobs you think might interest you. Research what different jobs pay, if those jobs are available in the area you hope to live, what degree is required, and if these jobs will be practical 10-30 years from now. What if the one thing you love it totally impractical for a major? Advice from me….minor in it! That’s what I did…and being a dance minor was really rewarding and great fun.