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How To Choose A Major...Or Not

To declare or not to declare… that is the question.

One of the most common questions students have as they fill out their applications is “Do I need to declare a major?”

Declaring a major has the advantage of showing the admissions committee that you are passionate about a topic and plan to pursue it further. Passion and commitment are positive attributes for an applicant. For schools with highly desired career-oriented majors like business or engineering, declaring a major puts you in a stronger position to get spots in the classes you need. You’ll also have the advantage of being connected to the advisors and teachers in the department who will be able to help with course choices and career planning from day one.

So, if you’ve always known you want to be a chemist, find schools with strong chemistry departments, and choose accordingly. Only one catch. What if your major is “impacted”? An impacted major is one that is chosen by so many students that some will not be able to get into the courses they need to complete it. As a result, admissions committees are put into the unenviable position of rejecting qualified students. If you’re set on chemistry, you should still declare it as your major. However, make sure you have some schools on your list at which chemistry is not impacted.

If your major is impacted at a school that’s high on your list, you may be tempted to choose a different major just to “get in.” That can backfire if, once you get there, you still can’t complete or even get into that major. Call the admissions office if you have to. Just be clear on the status of your desired major at all the schools on your list.

When declaring a major, be sure that your transcript reflects your strengths in subjects related to that major. You may not want to declare physics, for instance, if your math grades aren’t up to par.

If you’re interested in a major, but not sure it’s the key to your life’s work, don’t sweat it. Apply to schools where there are strong programs in a variety of your interests. Select a major that you can see yourself enjoying, knowing that other options are available. The fact is, a great many students (about two thirds) will change majors at least once during their college careers.

Which leads us to the other commonly asked question. “What about applying without declaring a major?” This is absolutely fine for most schools, especially liberal arts colleges that encourage exploration and discovery. One caveat however. If you don’t declare a major, be sure that your application reflects strong academic interests in one or two areas in order to distinguish yourself from all the other “undecideds.”

If you need guidance zeroing in on academic interests and careers, many websites have features that can help you focus on what could be right for you. Check out: or

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