Major Choice: Passion vs. Strategy

Academic Interest, Major, Concentration, Area of Study…these are the buzzwords every college applicant quickly becomes familiar with. While different colleges use different phrasings, they all boil down to the same question: What are you going to study? Many students become so immersed in the process of creating their college list that they fail to devote adequate attention to selecting a major, a factor that can sometimes make or break your admissions prospects. Today, we cover why choosing the right major is so critical in college admissions, and how to approach this “major” decision.

Your major, or program, is the primary subject area in which you will be taking courses throughout your time in college and in which you will ultimately receive your college degree. Some majors are more impacted (competitive) than others, meaning that far more applicants apply to these programs than there are spaces available as colleges often set a cap on the number of students they will accept into each program. 

While impacted majors differ across schools, common ones include Biology, Business, Computer Science, Psychology, and Engineering. Many schools provide a list of impacted majors based on their admissions data from previous years, so it’s best to review the websites of your prospective colleges for the most accurate information. Non-impacted majors, on the other hand, are less competitive, meaning that the ratio of applicants to available spots is smaller.   

A major’s
“impaction status” is essentially a cautionary label.

So, which students should consider moving ahead with an impacted major? At the Admission Masters, we encourage students to apply to impacted programs only if they are passionate about that field, have demonstrated significant academic achievement (preferably including courses in that subject area) and have immersed themselves in their intended major through activities such as internships, summer programs, independent study, and/or projects. Not only do outside activities showcase your dedication and commitment to learning beyond the classroom (an essential mindset for success in the challenging academic environment that typically characterizes impacted majors), they also offer you a way to stand out from the thousands of applicants who may hold equal academic qualifications.

What about students who want to apply to an impacted program, but who lack the academic and extracurricular foundation to support their interests?

For these students, it may be better to select a less competitive major that is still related to their primary field of interest. For instance, we would encourage a low-performing high school student who ultimately wants to work as an Aerospace Engineer to apply with an intended major in Physics (a less competitive major) rather than the highly impacted Aerospace Engineering major. Although it might seem counterintuitive to forego the more direct route, that student will have a much higher likelihood of admission into their college of choice. Once admitted to a school, it is often easier to switch majors: after having spent a minimum amount of time achieving good academic standing as a Physics major (the requirements vary according to the school and the program), this student will be better equipped to re-apply for admission into their institution’s Aerospace Engineering program. On the other hand, if this student finds that they struggle to maintain solid grades even after a semester or two within their less competitive major, it may not be in their best interest to attempt a transition to the more competitive one as their GPA could suffer, which could impact job prospects upon graduation.

One way to think about major choice is as a tradeoff. If it’s more important to you to attend a competitive college, consider applying with a less competitive major initially to maximize your chances of admission. Remember that up to 70% of students graduate from college with a different major than the one with which they entered, so use this as an opportunity to explore your options through electives and extracurriculars. You may find that your initial “ideal” major changes as you immerse yourself in new experiences. Alternatively, if you are passionate about the major itself (especially if it is a more popular one), remain open to less competitive colleges. Many schools, regardless of the name, have dedicated professors who are passionate about their fields and will offer you a fulfilling educational experience.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is more important to you — the name value of the school or the major itself, factoring in your academic capacity and the ease with which you can change majors at a given school. Weighing each of these factors can be confusing; that’s why the Admission Masters is here to help! We’ll work with you one-on-one to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to put together a personalized plan to make sure you’re on the right track to achieve your goals in higher education. It’s never too early or too late to begin thinking about your college major, so don’t hesitate to give us a call today! 

College Admission Consulting Group, ‘Admission Masters’
[LA, Irvine, Brea in California, Seoul in Korea]

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