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Majors! Will Applying Undeclared Hurt You?

Last night I was watching a cooking show with my husband and the chef referenced her specific cooking style as her "POV." My husband commented, "Ha! She didn't even say 'Point of View.'" We both knew exactly what she meant, though. She described her rustic Italian cooking, which was influenced by her upbringing and life.

It reminded me of a student's major choice on the college application. It seems like an easy question to answer at first, right? However, not every student knows what their POV is, especially as a teenager, which leads many to check off the "Undeclared" or "Undecided" box on their applications.

Indicating on your application that you are not sure of your major is not a bad thing. But listing a major which makes sense with your strengths and experience (at least right now) is a better thing. Admissions officers consciously or subconsciously evaluate an application based on a student's major. For example, if a student is interested in majoring in business, the admissions officer is trained to look for "evidence" to back it up:
  • Is the student in the highest math class available to them each year?
  • Do they have Calculus by senior year?
  • Are their grades in math the highest?
  • Math test scores?
  • What activities do they have that support a major in business?
  • Did a math teacher or another core teacher discuss the student's quantitative skills?
Even for a less common major, like philosophy, the admissions officer is looking for evidence of their critical thinking and writing skills through course selection, grades, test scores, teacher recommendation letters, and activities. 
One of the best places to provide evidence of an intended major is a college's supplemental essay. Not all colleges will ask a student to explain why they are interested in a particular major, but many highly selective colleges will. When a student lists "Undeclared" or "Undecided" as their major, they often struggle mightily with writing this essay. Instead of homing in on one major, they feel the need to mention a number of different areas, which turns the essay into a laundry list with no clear POV. When you have a major in mind and you have done your research on each college's approach to that major, your supplemental essay will have depth and personalized details.

Related reading: How to Answer the Most Common Essay Prompts for College Supplements

Some students worry about declaring a major on their application because they're not sure. But students aren't bound to the major they indicate on an application unless they are admitted to a specific program. In fact, most colleges don't require students to officially declare their major until the second semester of sophomore year. And plenty of students change their minds after that. So when approaching the major question on the application, consider that it's not forever. It's just your POV—right now.
Just like a chef, your POV might change, evolve, and pivot. Yet, that's part of growing up, learning, and understanding yourself even more.

For those students who feel lost about what major to list, here are a few tips:

  1. Look at your transcript and identify the subject matters in which you excel.
  2. Consider the hobbies and activities which bring you joy and satisfaction. Many times this is your secret talent waiting to be uncovered. 
  3. Remember that in college there are so many more choices to consider besides the basic core subject matters like math, English, science, history, and foreign language. From anthropology to dance to material science, the major choices are so much more interesting and varied than what is offered at your high school.
  4. Review the major choices offered by the colleges on your list and click on the link to explore the department's website further.
  5. Reach out to a mentor or someone in a field you are interested in. You may be surprised to learn that not everyone majored in a subject matter that they are now pursuing. POVs change!

Just be aware that some majors are more popular and/or competitive than others. That means expectations will be higher for the students who list these majors, so you want to make sure that you have as much evidence to back it up as possible. While it varies from college to college, business, computer science, and the sciences in general are very popular right now, very competitive, or both.
If I considered my POV in high school, I would have been able to recognize that I loved public speaking, communication, and the college admissions process (yes, even back then!). I ultimately ended up majoring in communication in college and getting my graduate degree in higher education, but it took me awhile to realize that I didn't have to major in a more common field like political science—which is what I listed on my applications. My POV needed to be celebrated more in high school, but I got around to it. I surely celebrate it every single day with what I spend my days and nights doing. 
Your major choice is not set in stone. Neither is your POV. Be patient. Look around. Look within. And don't be afraid to do something that no one else is doing because that's what I call 'opportunity.'