When you’re applying to colleges, chances are you’ll be asked to declare your intended major. You usually have the choice of applying as undecided or undeclared, which may feel more honest if you don’t yet know what you want to do. But does it hurt your chances not to declare a major? In other words, does declaring a major on your application help you get into college?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” It depends on various factors including the school, the major, and even your experiences and education.
Helping You Build Your Case
In most cases, declaring a major in and of itself won’t help your admissions chances. However, this focal point may help you build a more compelling application overall, which may be enough to help. It gives you a theme around which to structure your application, and may help you present yourself as mature and dedicated to a specific goal or plan.
In some cases, declaring a specific major may actually hurt your chances of getting into a particular college. If you want to study a particular major, but so do a disproportionate chunk of the other students applying to the school, declaring that popular major on your application may add pressure to stand out among all the other students who want to study the same thing. In this particular case, applying as “undecided” may actually help your chances (though you’ll still need to deal with getting into that popular major later).
Rumor has it -- though it’s not clear how true it is -- that applying with a declared unpopular major may help your chances of getting into competitive schools. If a college or university is struggling to find enough students to fill a particular program, they may be more willing to accept students who plan to major in that subject.
This doesn’t mean you should lie on your application; don’t list an intended major if you truly have no interest in the subject. But if you have several potential majors in mind, and one of them is far less popular, it’s worth considering listing that one on your application.
One University, Multiple Schools
This is perhaps most notable when you’re applying to a university with different schools. You may be able to later switch majors within schools fairly easily, but not able to switch schools without significant hassle.
For example, at UC Berkeley, you could easily switch from Celtic Studies to English (both in the College of Letters & Science). Similarly, you could probably switch fairly easily from Mechanical Engineering to Civil & Environmental Engineering (both in the College of Engineering). However, you would have a very difficult time switching from English to Civil & Environmental Engineering, because they are in different colleges.
In cases like this, it’s important to apply with a major in the college you know you’ll want to study in, even if you end up switching your exact major. Even if you’re undecided on your major, you need to make sure it’s clear that you’re applying to the correct college, and declaring a major on your application can help you do that.