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:
|Boston University||Transferring between these schools has different criteria depending on the school being entered. Difficulty varies by school or program.|
|Carnegie Mellon University|
|Case Western Reserve University||Medium|
|Duke||12||Hard||Students may apply to transfer between the schools, although there is no guarantee they will be able to. Changing majors within a school is easier.|
|Johns Hopkins University||Medium|
|New York University||30||Transferring 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.|
|Tufts University||30||Students 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.|
|UC Santa Barbara|
|UC San Diego||35||Medium||Changing of majors only requires departmental approval, except for capped majors which require a separate application.|
|University of Chicago|
|University of Florida|
|University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign||It 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 Michigan||24||Medium||Students 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 Pennsylvania|
|University of Rochester||34||Medium|
|University of Southern California||Hard|
|University of Virginia|
|Wake Forest University||28||Hard|
|Washington University in St. Louis||16||Medium|
|William & Mary||Medium|
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.
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.