Does Your Major Affect Admission?

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Students often wonder whether or not the major they choose when applying to colleges will impact their chances of admission. While it will, this isn’t as straightforward as many students believe, and many schools have their own idiosyncrasies in the admissions process. We will give some general guidance here, but if you want to know more about a specific school, check our university guides.

Generally, students interested in highly selective majors, such as business or computer science, will have a harder time gaining admission than students applying for less selective majors like anthropology, women’s studies, or art history. Some universities will allow students to apply to less competitive majors, then transfer into more competitive majors – but only if those majors are in the same college. 

Here’s a table with the top 50 schools in the country, sorted alphabetically, with notes on how difficult it is to change your major for each:

SchoolRankDifficultySwitching Majors
Boston College35MediumTransferring between the schools is difficult, and requires meeting academic requirements, and has an additional application. The exact requirements vary by school. Approval is subject to the will of the dean. Changing majors within a school is fairly simple but requires permission from the department head in most cases.
Boston University42MediumTransferring between these schools has different criteria depending on the school being entered. Difficulty varies by school or program.
Brandeis University42EasyIt is generally easy to change majors. Biology, Neurology, and Computer Science all have separate forms from the standard. Students wishing to major in Business or Health: Science, Society, and Policy must meet additional requirements.
Brown14EasyYou may change your concentration, so long as you will still be able to graduate on time.
Caltech9EasyChanging majors between divisions requires filling out a petition to change majors and is otherwise straightforward.
Carnegie Mellon University26HardIt is very difficult to change schools and to change majors.
Case Western Reserve University42MediumIt is very difficult to transfer between schools. Students may add a second major at another school.
Columbia University3MediumStudents may apply for an internal transfer between schools, but there is no guarantee they will get one. It is easy to change majors within a school.
Cornell18EasyIt is generally easy to transfer between schools at Cornell, so long as a student is in good academic standing. There is an application required. It is generally easy to change majors within a college.
Dartmouth13EasyStudents do not declare a major until their second year, and may change majors without much difficulty, though consulting with academic advisors is recommended.
Duke12HardStudents may apply to transfer between the schools, although there is no guarantee they will be able to. Changing majors within a school is easier.
Emory University21EasyIt is easy to change schools after your second year. You may not change schools before this point. It is easy to change your major within a school.
Georgetown University23MediumChanging schools requires students to write an essay explaining why they believe the change is necessary and receiving permission from the dean. Changing majors within a school is easy.
Georgia Tech35Very HardChanging between schools is difficult, and requires an application. It is difficult to change majors, and being able to change is not guaranteed, depending on the popularity of the new intended major. Students do not have to enter the school with their major declared, but most do.
Harvard2EasyIt is fairly simple for students to change their concentration.
Johns Hopkins University9MediumIt is difficult but possible to change schools, although the process is not guaranteed. Changing majors is easy, and adding a second major from a different school is possible.
MIT4EasyIt is relatively easy to change schools and majors once you are admitted.
New York University30MediumTransferring between schools is difficult, and may only happen after the first year, and must happen before junior year. Different schools have different requirements. Changing a major within a school is relatively simple. Changing majors between schools is much harder.
Northeastern University49MediumChanging schools or majors requires meeting with your advisor, and fulfilling school-specific transfer requirements, although it is generally simple. The ease of transfer varies by school.
Northwestern University9EasyStudents are allowed to transfer freely between schools if they are in good academic standing and there is room for their desired major. It does require a meeting with an advisor.
Notre Dame19MediumChanging schools at Notre Dame is difficult and requires meeting with and gaining permission from the dean. Changing majors within a school is relatively easy.
Princeton1HardIt is possible but difficult to change majors once one is declared.
Rice University16HardStudents may change their major only after discussing with their current major’s advisor.
Stanford6EasyIt is relatively easy to change both school and major, and this may be done online.
Tufts University30EasyStudents may transfer between the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, so long as certain requirements are met. Students may not transfer from the BFA program. Transferring is relatively straightforward so long as students meet the course prerequisites. Changing majors within a school is relatively easy.
Tulane University41EasyIt is easy to change between schools, or to declare majors in more than one school, requiring a meeting with an advisor.
UC Berkeley22HardChanging colleges is very difficult, especially in the schools of Engineering, Chemistry, and Business. It is possible but still difficult to transfer into other schools, though this should not be counted on as an option. It is possible to change majors, but depending on how popular the major is, it may be better to declare it as a desired major while applying.
UC Davis39EasyStudents may transfer between colleges with the approval of their academic advisor and the dean of the college they will be entering. It is easy to change majors within a school.
UC Irvine35MediumIt is possible to transfer between majors, but it is more difficult for some schools than others. It is very difficult to transfer to Business or Nursing majors.
UCLA20HardIt is fairly easy to transfer into Letters and Sciences, but hard to transfer from there into other schools. All transfers between schools require consulting with and permission from the school you will be entering. Changing majors within a school requires permission from the department. Changing majors between schools is more difficult.
UC Santa Barbara30MediumChanging majors is generally easy but requires a separate application for students wishing to become engineering majors.
UC San Diego35MediumChanging of majors only requires departmental approval, except for capped majors which require a separate application.
UNC-Chapel Hill28HardStudents may only enter the College of Arts and Sciences. They may enter other schools after their first year by filling out an additional application. This requires a meeting with an advisor. Changing a major within a school is relatively simple, changing majors into a different school requires applying to that school, and maybe contingent upon being able to meet all graduation requirements in time.
University of Chicago6EasyIt is relatively easy to change majors, requiring an online form, and possibly an advisor meeting if a student is in their third year or after.
University of Florida30MediumChanging college or major requires meeting with the advisor from the college you intend to transfer into. They will determine your eligibility, as well as whether you will be able to graduate on time.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign47MediumIt can be difficult to transfer between undergraduate schools, depending on the popularity of your new intended major. This varies by school. Changing majors within a school is simpler.
University of Michigan24MediumStudents wishing to transfer between colleges must fill out the Cross Campus Transfer Form to be eligible. Students may change majors within a college with a meeting with their advisor. Students in other schools may always take a second major for a dual degree in LSA.
University of Pennsylvania8MediumTransferring between schools is difficult, and may only be done once by a student in their time at the school. Transferring between majors within a school is fairly simple.
University of Rochester34MediumStudents are allowed to change schools on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether they have the necessary prerequisites completed and the advice of their advisor. Changing majors within a school is easier.
University of Southern California24HardStudents may apply to different schools within USC once they have started classes. Admission is not guaranteed, and some schools are more difficult to gain admittance to than others. It is easy to change majors within a school, and students can add a major from another school in some circumstances.
University of Virginia26MediumTransfer between schools is not automatic, and students must apply to the school they want to transfer into. It is easy to change majors within a school.
UT Austin42MediumThe internal transfer process is very competitive, especially for students trying to enter business and engineering. Students must complete an application to the new school, and acceptance is dependent upon the amount of space in the program. Transferring majors within a school is easier.
Vanderbilt University14EasyStudents may change schools so long as they have completed at least two semesters of work and are in good academic standing. Changing your major is relatively easy.
Wake Forest University28HardStudents usually declare majors in the Spring of their sophomore year, it requires permission from department heads to change majors.
Washington University in St. Louis16MediumIt is difficult to transfer between divisions at WashU, but you may take an additional major or minor in another division after consulting with your advisor.
William & Mary39MediumIt is possible to change schools after admission but requires applying to the new school. It is relatively easy to change majors.
Yale4EasyIt is relatively easy to change majors.

What This Means for You

Some majors are easier to get into, generally ones in undersubscribed fields, including the humanities and social sciences. Pre-med, engineering, and business programs are much more competitive, as many more people wish to take part in them.

While underrepresented majors have higher admit rates than overrepresented ones, you should not attempt the deceptive practice of picking a major they don’t want to trick the university into admitting them. Admissions officers, especially at highly competitive schools, read applications holistically. Unless you demonstrate an in-depth background in the major you select, picking a less selective major for admissions purposes will generally be recognized as a disingenuous tactic and you will be removed from consideration.

Therefore, you should not begin by considering underrepresented majors and then try to work backward to craft an application. Making the application fit a narrative it was not made to conform to comes off as disingenuous at best. This is especially true for the more niche majors. Students should not apply as gender studies majors with an activities list packed with medical research and clinical shadowing and expect to get far. 

Instead, you should find parallel majors; ones that are less popular but are similar enough that interests in one area can transfer over. For example, students interested in business or engineering are often well-positioned for statistics or math. You should also look for secondary interests that can be pushed to the forefront. See what strengths there are in your application, and form a narrative around them.

Begin your major selection process with the list of activities and honors. What story does it tell? What major is a logical continuation of this story? If more than one major fits, pick the one that better positions you for success. For example, pre-med students who lack extensive medical involvement but spent a lot of time painting and touring art museums can be reframed as Art History majors. Art History majors are still able to complete all their pre-med requirements and are accepted to medical schools at a higher rate than biology majors. Your plans to attend medical school after college should fade into the background, while a more unique interest in art history takes the forefront.

By using the table above, you can see which schools will best allow you to pursue this application strategy. By positioning your major and application in terms of the activities you’ve done, you paint a more convincing picture for admissions officers. 

Final Thoughts

How much a declared major matter depends entirely upon the school in question, but can often impact an admissions decision. While you should be honest, you should still consider what your application says, and how it represents you to colleges. College is the next step in your story, and colleges want to make sure the major you are interested in is a logical next step.

Trying to strategize about your college applications in this way can feel overwhelming for many students, who aren’t used to thinking this far ahead. If you are concerned about your own choice of major, and how it will impact your admissions chances, schedule a free consultation with us, as we’re always happy to help students achieve their academic dreams.

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Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

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