The Pros and Cons to Declaring a Major on Your Application

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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Although it may feel like all of your peers have decided what they want to study in college, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college with an undeclared major; and 75 percent change their major before they graduate. What does this mean for you? To provide clarity, we’ll review the pros and cons to declaring a major on your college application.

This demonstrates how wholly acceptable it is to feel uncertain of what you want to pursue in college. That said, there are definite pros and cons to declaring a major on your application. Take a moment now to consider each side if you’re unsure of what to do on your own application.

The Pros to Declaring

Financial aid opportunities may increase

You may be eligible for academic financial aid, but if you declare a major, especially a major that has a specialized school or program, such as nursing, engineering, the arts, social work, or education for example, you may be eligible for additional aid through these programs.

Similarly, you’ll presumably spend less time and money on courses you don’t need if you can work towards a major right away. You might spend the money anyway if you change majors, as we’ll talk about in the cons, but if you already have an idea of what you want to study, the odds are in your favor.

You’ll stand out on your application

A large number of students apply to college with an undecided or an undeclared major. Although admissions offices do not expect applicants to do so, declaring a major on your application may make you stand out amongst the crowd. This is particularly true if you are in a minority in your major, such as men in nursing or women in engineering; or if you have selected an unpopular major.

Getting into selective classes in college

Some classes in college, even if they are required of certain majors, only occur during certain time blocks or in certain semesters. By declaring a major on your application and starting said major in your freshman year, you can make sure you land a spot in these selective yet required classes right away. This will help you to graduate on time and find a job that much sooner. 

The Cons to Declaring

If you need to build up your grades

If your grades were not the greatest in high school, it may be difficult for you to compete against students who have declared a major and have the academic proof to back them up. The more selective of a major you want to pursue, the harder it’ll be to earn admission with lower grades. This strategy works well if you want to pursue a major that has a fair number of general education requirements you can complete in your first year of college without actually declaring.

If your resume may not support your desired major

Similarly to needing to build up your grades, if you know you want to go into a specialized field but have no experience in that field, it may benefit you to not declare a major on your application. Then, you can spend your first year joining organizations, clubs, and doing volunteer work to support your transition into your major later on.

If you genuinely don’t know what you want to do

If you declare a major on your application simply because you think admissions will be impressed, you’ll have a hard time supporting your case. When it comes to the interview and essays, admissions offices want to hear of your passion, your previous work, and your goals in your declared major. Without the interest and the work to back it up, you’ll come up short.

It can also be more difficult to change your mind later on, as some credits are nontransferable to other majors, but it depends on the school and the program.

If you want to attend a small liberal arts college

It’s tempting to think that a large university would be the better place to apply on an undeclared major since there are numerous fields of study. However, big universities often can give less care to the undecided student, and their fields of study may reside in highly specialized schools within the university. If you wish to attend a small liberal arts college, however? Often they’ll be better equipped to give you individual attention, and to help you transition to a major once you’ve decided.

Final thoughts

Know that, amongst other things, declaring a major on your college application does not intrinsically help you. Whether you are steadfast on pursuing one unique course of study, or would like to sample some classes once you enter college, your major needs to be the right fit for you. Furthermore, whether you intend to declare a major on your application or not, there are steps you can take: give a clear picture of who you are, as well as your strengths and interests; and demonstrate that no matter what you major in, you are a strong candidate worthy of acceptance.

Questions? Let us know!