Choosing a Major at a UC School

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Sheelah Bearfoot
Sheelah Bearfoot

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The University of California college application is officially online! As you scroll through the app, you may be wondering how to handle that little check-box for selecting a major. With so many options available, the choice can seem overwhelming. As a follow-up to our previous discussion series about the UC system, we’ve also compiled a list of resources. For those of you wondering what you need to know when choosing a major at a UC, read on!

It’s a good idea to start thinking about your interests early. But you don’t rush to declare just for the sake of putting something down! Give yourself plenty of time to fully consider the options. Do your research and talk to advisors. And don’t stress too much: the major you choose first may not be the one you end up graduating with. And the major you graduate with won’t dictate your entire career path. Most importantly, pursue the field that you are most passionate about studying. 

Admission chances

Many students worry about how choosing a major can impact their admission chances. If that’s you, read through this post for a good primer. Transfers may need to do a little more legwork; many discussions of selecting your major during college admissions are not inclusive of the transfer student perspective. In some cases, the process is more or less the same as for freshman admits. However, the major selection for certain UCs can sometimes impact transfer acceptance chances. The UC system has an extremely comprehensive database on this for transfer students here! If you’re a statistics person, investigate that database for a concrete numerical picture about how it all stacks up.

Back-up majors

Also keep in mind that some UC campuses allow you to pick more than one major (like UC San Diego). You should know that the difference between first and second choice selection doesn’t matter for admissions chances. That’s why they allow you to pick more than one! So select the one you WANT the most as your first choice. However, if you do designate a capped or impacted major first, UCSD recommends making your second choice of major a non-capped one, for your own benefit. (Wondering what a capped major is? You’re not alone. Read this.)

For campuses that only allow you to designate one major on your application, still think it through. It’s a good idea to think about what your second and third choices might be, just in case.

Further thoughts

That covers the main logistical considerations. But again, I strongly advice that you see the specific UC website and major for in-depth information. Links to each UC campus and information on their individual majors can be found here.

As a start for items to research, you can check out the campus websites! When you do, confirm the most up-to-date information on available majors. Merced, Riverside, and Santa Cruz are closing some majors, so the list may change by the time you apply. 

Lastly, here’s some fun fast data on 2019 admissions for UC campuses! This data is specific to freshmen. And here is a comprehensive, reflective report for 2018. 


The take-home message should be that usually, your choice of major within the same college doesn’t matter, and exceptions to this are few and far between. Check with your Empowerly counselor to make sure you don’t fall into one of those cases. There is a lot of information on the individual UC websites to make your major selection a transparent process. Nobody is trying to hide anything in the hopes that you’ll fall into a trap and pick a major that might reduce your chances of admission by 0.1%.

Don’t waste your stress on major selection, save it for writing the personal statements!

Questions? Let us know!