Should I Apply To College As An Undecided Major?

[fa icon="calendar"] 12/27/19 3:20 PM / by Farah Weheba

Farah Weheba

Applying to colleges admittedly undecided about your major is actually way harder than centering your application around a focused intended major. You’re signing up for a very challenging strategy- persuasion about your unbridled potential, while squashing suspicions that you’re aimless. 

I'm Not Looking For Commitment Right Now...

Not sure what you want to major in? That’s okay. You don’t need to declare your major as a freshman, and most universities have flexible major switching policies even if you change your mind after you have declared your major. You are not bound to the major you write about wanting to pursue in your application essay. The department does not admit you- the entire university does.

 

Thinking woman in glasses looking up with light idea bulb above head isolated on gray wall background-1If you’re thinking about writing about how you’re undecided as to a major, I really don’t recommend it.  A lot of applications are major unspecified, and that indecision can signal indifference or a lack of focus to an admissions officer– when you’re trying to prove a point that you have focused ambition. So, applying without an intended major muddles your message. Universities can be even more selective when choosing among major undecided applicants, so you only hurt your own chances. At a top 100 university, your extracurricular profile often needs to be 30% more rigorous than a student with a major in mind in order to have a similar shot at admission. 

Remember, you’re not bound in any way to the major you write about wanting to pursue. You can explore courses as a freshman and sophomore on the campus, and then make an informed decision about the major to which you’d like to commit. Pick a tentative major and write about that in your essays. 

So How Do I Pick a Tentative Major? 

Pick a major that makes sense with your extracurriculars. There must be a reason you’re in Science Olympiad, Chemistry Club, and attended Chem-A-Palooza. Okay, it might not be quite that obvious. Find a central theme that ties your extracurricular leadership together. Perhaps you’re involved with building houses for low-income families with Habitat for Humanity, and you volunteer translation services at the ER. The common thread there isn’t construction, or linguistics; it’s advocating for underserved populations. One potential major that would be on brand with those activities would be Public Policy. 

 

Public Policy is a major that teaches you to evaluate policies, understand the politics around policies, and help formulate future legal policies that grant a better quality of life to a greater number of people. Public policy coursework involves economics, political science, law, philosophy, ethics, and social psychology. The undergrad major prepares graduates for entry-level jobs in policy research and organizations, non-profits, and serves as a great foundation for graduate degrees like law, public health, economics, political science, education, among others. 

When selecting your tentative major,  think about the career you may want someday and work backwards. Since you’re equally passionate about many academic disciplines, select one, and discuss how your strengths in other accompanying disciplines would give you an edge on that selected path. For example, if you're interested equally in math, psychology, and business, you could select Economics as a major –marrying math and social psychology– and discuss how your entrepreneurial interests would help you research business growth and labor markets. 

Guess What? I Still Want to Apply Undecided 

Alright, if you insist, here are some tips for how to go about that. It’s a lot more work, though, so be forewarned. 

You’ll need to demonstrate aptitude across the board in a wide variety of academics. You’ll need to submit SAT IIs and AP/IB tests in humanities, math, science, a foreign language, and/or social sciences.

You’ll also need to package sort of tiered sub-brands (as opposed to just 1 brand) of 2-3 activities that align with one of each of the following tracks: humanities, math, science/ social science. 

You’re basically signing up to demonstrate the variety of your skills and equal aptitudes among subjects as a jack of all trades, rather than building a singular focused brand around one intended major. 

 

Things to Highlight as an Undecided Applicant

  • Definitely highlight leadership and awards.

  • Your message needs to be that you’re equally great at everything. You’ll need to demonstrate leadership in 70% of your extracurricular activities, plus state and national level awards.
  • You’ll need to demonstrate commitment to the same extracurriculars over long periods of time, not a lot of jumping around or switching gears. Self-driven projects show initiative and decisive action, so you’ll need these to counterbalance your confessed indecision.
  • Your undecided essays need to convince an admissions officer that you could be successful in any academic department, not just one. Since most majors on a given campus require good writing skills, demonstrating strong writing is a must.

  • You’ll need to demonstrate equal passion for several different academic disciplines, not equal indifference to all of them.
     
  • Your essays should persuade an admissions officer that your indecision stems from your profound and equally distributed passion for vastly different academic fields. They’re all so equally intrinsically intriguing to you that you haven’t yet committed to just one.

  • You could write about your hopefulness to find an interdisciplinary major on campus that harnesses your competing strengths. If the university you’re applying to allows you to design your own major, you could express intrigue in that option and explain how you might integrate studying your varied interests. 

Once more, I don’t recommend applying as an openly undecided student. You’re signing up for a challenge that requires even more finesse than applying as a decided applicant. You’ll need to juggle convincing an officer of your unbridled potential, while quelling concerns that you’re unfocused. 

Need more activities to help you build academic variety? Check out our database of resources by creating your free Empowerly account to access the Digital Toolkit. It features a database of summer programs, internship, research opportunities, and much more. 

Working with an Empowerly counselor can help you position your personal brand and story in the most outstanding way, allowing your admissions potential to fully set sail. 

 

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Topics: High School Academics, College Applications, Extracurriculars, College Essays, College Major, Career advice

Farah Weheba

Written by Farah Weheba

Farah is a Brooklyn-based Community Director at Empowerly, a college counseling and essay editing company serving and supporting ambitious high school students. Farah has a BA in psychology from Stanford University, and a Master's in Education under the Stanford Learning, Design, and Technology discipline graduating in 2014.

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