It’s a question that we see a lot at Empowerly: which major should I choose to increase my chances of admission? Will college major chances differ between students? Let’s look at an example.
I’d like to major in bioengineering at this college. Can you tell me how the admission rates compare to other programs? I may apply to another if my chances decline in choosing this program.
The Reasoning Behind the Concern
There is no doubt that getting into the best colleges is a near impossible task for students these days. For those with their sights set high, any slight advantage might just get you over the line. But is opting for a completely different major over your interested major the best thing to do? Do you really want to study a major when there is no guarantee you can transfer out, or worse, graduate with a qualification you have no intention of applying in the working world?
I’m not favorable to this tactic. Students should choose a major on the basis of what they are interested in. If they are truly unsure where their interest lies, then they should apply to a flexible program or as an undeclared major. However, your college major chances on the college application shouldn’t impact your entire educational course.
Reasons to Reconsider
Colleges don’t tend to publish such granular data on admission by department or program and often discourage students from taking this path to try and increase their chances. Many, like the University of Southern California and many campuses of the University of California state that it makes no difference.
Furthermore, admission officers are likely to pick up on the discrepancy between choice of college major and high school courses/extracurricular activities. Essay questions that ask about interests and pursuits will be difficult to answer and responses may read as disingenuous. This will only harm an applicant’s chance of admission.
Alternatives ways to ensure you study what interests you
If you know what you’d like to major in and it falls under one of the most popular and competitive majors, like biology, computer science or business administration, there are few things you can do to ensure that you to stay true to your interests without compromising on your college success.
Check if the college has a policy
Check first whether the college you are applying to places any weight on college major in their admission deliberations. Many explicitly state whether this has any weight on their admission website.
Make sure you have plenty of fallback options in your college list
If you have your heart set on a particular program, then apply. Don’t let fierce competition stop you. But make sure you have plenty of fallback options including at other colleges, where you can study a similar program. For example, if you are interested in the highly sought after major, computer science, look at cognitive science or applied mathematics instead. Include lots of safety colleges on your list.
Not sure what to study?
Choose flexible programs
If you aren’t wedded to a particular program then choose a less popular program that offers flexibility or includes subjects that interest you. For example, some colleges allow you to design your own major offering maximum flexibility.
If you really don’t know what you want to study, apply to university as undeclared, or for those universities that require you apply to a particular college, apply undeclared within the college.
While some may argue that this just leads to procrastination, it’s common for young people to be unsure about what interests them. In fact, there are as many as 20-50 percent of students who are unsure about their choice of studies and plenty of colleges give you the first year or two before deciding on a major. Just make sure that you are working toward deciding on your major within 1-2 years of commencing college.
Whatever you do, don’t put together a disingenuous application. Be true to your interests with an application that backs them all the way!