Many colleges and universities ask applicants to choose their course of study, or major, in their applications. Not all students choose to apply by major. Applying “undecided” is perfectly reasonable if you are uncertain about what you want to study. For more information, check out our blog post on applying undecided.
However, if you are passionate about a certain area or already know what you want to study, then applying to a specific major or program can be a useful tool in your application. Applying to a specific major may qualify you for things like department-specific scholarships, special freshman housing, or professional development opportunities that are open only to majors.
Why do colleges care about my intended major?
Many schools are “major-blind,” which means that they do not consider applicants’ majors during the admissions process. Admissions officers understand that high school students might not know what they want to study yet!
However, for popular or well-known programs, applicants are usually expected to identify their intended major. For example, consider admissions at the University of Florida. UF is major-blind, except for the Biomedical Engineering program, which does consider applicants’ intended major.
Popular and “Impacted” Majors and Programs
Some majors are more popular (and therefore more competitive) than others. Business, Computer Science, and Nursing are popular majors at most universities. Popular majors are considered “impacted” in admissions; the level that they are “impacted” varies by school and program. As a general rule, popular majors like Computer Science are often more competitive in admissions, especially when housed within Engineering programs.
This is often the case for programs a school is well-known for. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a renowned engineering program; it factors intended majors into admissions decisions, and its engineering programs typically have lower acceptance rates than other departments.
Some schools have limits on the number of students they will accept into a major. For example, the University of Maryland has a number of limited-enrollment programs.
This often occurs at large public universities with multiple departments, like the University of California system. The UC schools hire faculty and staff based on predetermined enrollment numbers of different majors. So, students get put into slots based on their intended major and, while it’s possible to change majors once enrolled, they’re not always guaranteed a new spot. In some cases, it is harder for an enrolled college student to transfer into an impacted major, like Business, than it is for an applicant to apply and be accepted into the same major.
Another example of this is Johns Hopkins University’s Biomedical Engineering program, which requires applicants to list a major and does not accept transfer students into the BME program.
Bolstering Applications for Specific Majors and Programs
One of the best ways to impress a college is to show commitment to a passion or an area of study. If you’re applying to a very competitive major or program, your application will be stronger if it includes specific activities and achievements that connect to that topic.
On the other hand, putting an obscure major that doesn’t tie in with your high school classes or extracurriculars won’t be as compelling. For example, taking a lot of writing and English classes and choosing Mechanical Engineering as your intended major will likely confuse college admissions teams.