Many students in Texas apply to UT Austin every year, content in the knowledge of their first choice major. When it comes to picking their secondary major though, confusion often ensues. How do secondary majors work? How much does your choice matter? Is there an optimal strategy for picking a secondary major?
In this article, we’ll explore how this choice impacts your admission to UT Austin, what it means for you, and how to pick the optimal secondary major. We know college admissions can be confusing, and hope that by explaining this small piece, we can give you one fewer thing to worry about. Let’s jump in!
It Mostly Doesn’t Matter
Surprise! It turns out that the second choice major does not impact admissions decisions 90% of the time for UT Austin. Generally speaking, either you are admitted into your first choice major, or you aren’t. There are a few circumstances where the second choice major does matter, but for the most part it isn’t considered at all.
So why do they ask?
You may rightly ask this question, after all, why bother asking for information if you aren’t going to use it? There are two answers. The first, and less satisfying, is bureaucratic inertia. The larger, older, and more established an organization is, the harder it is for anyone to change any aspect of the organization in any way, even if the change is an improvement, unless forced to do so by external circumstances.
There was a time when the secondary major was an important part of UT Austin’s application process. Each applicant would be considered for their first choice major, and if not admitted their application would be shuffled over to their second choice option to be considered again. Then, if again they weren’t admitted, automatically admitted students would be admitted into Liberal Arts.
Now, students who are automatically admitted generally only have their application considered for their first choice major, and if not selected for that, have their application immediately sent for consideration at the College of Liberal Arts. In spite of this change, reality has still not caught up with the application.
The second reason is that there are a small number of circumstances where a second choice major is still important and considered. Because of this, they make all students fill out a second choice major, whether or not it is relevant to them.
When it Matters
The first thing to note is that the second major only matters for automatically admitted students in most cases. We will specify when this is not true on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, if you are out-of-state, or an in-state student who does not qualify for automatic admission, a second choice major matters less.
This is the largest and most notable exception. Cockrell admits by major, not just by school, so you are considered based on your qualifications as an engineer as a whole, and on your capability for your desired major within engineering.
When applying to study engineering, you should have both your first and second choice majors within Cockrell, for whichever majors your background best positions you for. This will maximize your chances of gaining admission to the college in some capacity. This is true for out of state and non-automatic admits as well.
For several honors programs, you need both the first and second choice major option in order to apply. This is notable for the combined business-computer science program, but is true of others as well. Generally, if you are applying to multiple honors programs, first and second choice majors matter more.
The reason for this is that honors program admissions are handled entirely separately from regular admissions. This is different for different programs of course; you must gain admission to McCombs College of Business to be considered for business honors, but generally honors admissions are a separate track, and they have their own policies.
This is true for all students applying to honors programs, as there is no such thing as “automatically admitted” when applying to these programs. Your grades and class rank do still matter, but unlike UT Austin as a whole, you cannot qualify for automatic admission through them.
Second Major Strategy
This only applies to students who are automatically admitted, though out-of-state students and non-automatic admits may apply it if they wish. This strategy is based on how UT Austin deals with automatic admits during admissions.
For students who are automatically admitted, they are first considered for their first choice major, and examined for fitness. At UT Austin, admission is generally determined by school alone (with engineering being a notable exception). If they are not accepted into that major, most are sent to Undergraduates Studies (UGS) or the College of Liberal Arts.
This means that choosing a second-choice major in the same school as your first choice is useless, but choosing one in UGS or Liberal Arts can give you an advantage. You may not end up with the major you want, but you can at least choose where you land.
As an example, we recommend students who are applying to McCombs for business as their first choice major list Economics in Liberal Arts as their second choice. While this is a very different program, it will offer some of the same opportunities, and is also hard to transfer into once you are in college.
Not all majors have such an easy parallel, but you still can have some say in where you land within Liberal Arts and UGS.
Should You Attend if You Don’t Get Your 1st Choice?
This is another common question we get from students, and it’s a reasonable one. Is it worth attending UT Austin if they didn’t get their first choice major, but instead ended up in a program they don’t much care for?
This is, of course, highly dependent upon your situation, but we will give some general advice. First, internal transfers between colleges at UT Austin are incredibly difficult, and you should think hard before deciding on this as your plan (we’ll likely cover this specifically in a future article).
You should consider other offers of admission you have received. Will any allow you to immediately begin studying your desired program? What are the costs, both real and opportunity of each?
There is no shame in going to a safety school; that’s the entire point of having them on your list. You also don’t need to give up your dream school to do so; transferring is always an option.
If, however, UT Engineering or business is your top choice, then internal transfers are marginally easier than external transfers (though both are quite difficult). Therefore, we recommend attending UT Austin and applying for both internal and external transfer simultaneously in these cases. This ensures you will be able to study your chosen field somewhere, even if it isn’t your top choice school. Studying at a college you don’t prefer is still a better alternative than studying a subject you don’t care about.
The college application process is often needlessly complicated and convoluted, and UT Auston’s system of second choice majors is simply another part of that. While it does serve a legitimate purpose for some students, for most applicants it is merely a pointless and confusing garnish.
As the complexity of college applications increases, so too does the need for students to have a guide along the way. Just as a guide is needed to find a safe path through a treacherous stretch of terrain, a mentor can guide you through the pitfalls that litter the college application process, waiting to trip up the unwary. If you want to hear how we can help guide you through this process, schedule a free consultation today. We’ve helped hundreds of students get into their top schools, and we’re always happy to hear from you.