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The Do’s and Don’ts of the “Why Major” Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



What is the “Why Major” Essay?


Almost every school has supplemental essays, and most will have some variation of a prompt that asks you to explain your interest in your intended major. Here are a couple of examples:


Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably please indicate up to three from the list provided. Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer) 


Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (100 words) 


Most students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time. What passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study? (300 words) 


These essays are all asking the same basic question, which is: “why do these areas of interest that you selected appeal to you?” Admission officers want to know about what makes you tick academically and intellectually, but unfortunately they don’t give you much space to discuss this.  Also, keep in mind that the question isn’t asking you to lock yourself into a particular area but rather to explain your passions and intellectual curiosities and how they have developed over time. Colleges know that students often change their minds and won’t always stick to the major they applied with.


Additionally, there are some other questions generally nested inside this prompt. This includes the question of how this academic background contributes to your future career or goals. Some schools will also explicitly ask in their prompt what programs or extracurriculars you are interested in taking advantage of at that school. If you also address these questions, it helps the admissions officers assess whether or not you will be a good academic fit for their program. 


No matter how this essay question is asked, you want to make sure that you are thinking about why you want to study this major and specifically about why you want to study at that particular school.


The Do’s for the “Why Major” Essay


Do tell a story and include personal details


Make sure to talk about where your interest came from and how it has developed during your academics and extracurriculars. The most impactful essays tell a story. Keep in mind, however, that this “why major” essay should not be a resume, so refrain from listing every single extracurricular activity that relates to your chosen major. Admission officers have already seen all of your extracurriculars from your Common App, and instead are hoping to understand your personal connection to your intended major. 


Using an anecdote from your own life is often an even better way to explain where this passion grew from. It generally helps to share anecdotes at the beginnings of these essays because they are catchy hooks that draw the reader in. They are personal, interesting, and instantly captivating for your reader. Anecdotes also provide context for your academic interest. They show the reader where your interest came from and how it has grown it over time. 


Your anecdote can be coursework or projects you did in school since that is the setting where you interact with a lot of intellectual and academic ideas. For example, perhaps you were always interested in writing poetry in school, so you started to write in your spare time. You wrote a few books or short stories, and you began to realize that you love to write, which is why you want to major in English. 


Keep in mind that anecdotes can come from many different types of experiences. If we consider the example of wanting to study English again, you could start your essay by describing a childhood ritual where you and your dad went to the library every week. You would sit in the new arrivals section and start pulling books off the shelves. Over time, you began to learn about various authors and their personal lives, and this has inspired you to pursue an English major.


Do talk about specific areas of interest and goals


If you have the space, it may help to include specific areas of interest within the major you have chosen. For example, if you are applying as a Sociology major, you may be interested in gender relationships or the topic of institutional racism in particular. If you are able to explain exactly what it is within a given field that interests you, your essay will be more unique, personal, and genuine, while also giving the admissions officer a clear picture of what is actually exciting to you about that major. 


Another way to make your “why major” essay stand out in this way is to emphasize your goals for the future. Once you have crafted your narrative and clearly explained your passion for the major, it can be helpful for the admissions officers to have an idea of what your goals are and how majoring in this field is going to help you achieve them. For example, if your goal is to find success as an author of numerous culturally relevant novels, studying great works of literature through an English major is a clear path to this. 


Do include curriculum, program, or professor specific details


Another important aspect of the “why major” essay is to explain why the school you are applying to is a good fit for your intended major. Colleges aren’t looking for you to tell them about how highly they are ranked for this major or that their school’s prestige will lead to a successful career; instead they are looking to see that you have researched their specific program – the curriculum, the programs opportunities, and the professors.


When diving into researching a school for this essay, you want to look into what kinds of classes are being taught, the teaching ideology of the school, and whether there are specific classes or resources that you want to take advantage of, such as research or study abroad programs. There may also be professors on campus who you are really excited to learn from and work with.


One example is if you are interested in becoming a writer, you might note that a specific study abroad program might have a creative writing concentration that will allow you to hone your techniques. Additionally, there may be poets or writers who are visiting the school’s program that you are interested in taking courses from. If you dive into these specific aspects of the curriculum and program, you can convey why that school’s major is truly the right fit for your academic goals.


For another example, if you are an intended biology major, you might have seen that a professor is doing groundbreaking research in CRISPR gene editing that is highly aligned with your interest in studying specific disease processes. Adding specific details and connecting them to your personal interests will add to the authenticity of your essay and show the admissions officers that you have done research into their school specifically.


Be careful, however, that you are not name dropping things and people. Make sure to only mention a specific faculty member if their work is actually relevant to your interests. It could look disingenuous if you don’t cite exactly what about their work excites you and relates to your interests. 


The Don’ts for the “Why Major” Essay


Don’t mention a school’s prestige


Admissions officers know their school is great and that anybody can Google specific data, such as college rankings. Therefore, saying something along the lines of “this school has a top ranked physics program” or “this is the best school for biological research on the west coast”  isn’t very meaningful to them. 


The problem with this is these things are not very personal to you. Instead, admissions officers want to know what things you connect to with their school, why you’re a good fit, and why this program in particular is something to aspire to. 


Don’t mention post-graduation salary


In this essay, you don’t want to talk about post-graduation salary goals. Talking about only financial gain is not great because these schools don’t see themselves as a stepping stone to a salary. They see themselves as preparing you for the world and your career. 


Going to college is an experience in and of itself, and talking about money often devalues the college experience to an essay reader. As an alternative, try to focus more on your career goals and why you want to pursue that field of interest.


Don’t name drop


When writing the “why major” essay, don’t just drop professor’s names,courses, or programs in your response, but demonstrate that you have researched them and thought critically about why this is the right fit for you.


If you talk about a professor, talk about their research or a certain project and why you want to be part of it. If you talk about a course or a program, demonstrate how it fits into your academic goals and your ultimate career trajectory. These are the best ways to ensure that you’re coming across as genuine, passionate, and excited about a particular school’s offerings.


Is Your “Why Major” Essay Strong Enough?


Essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision, as they’re your chance to humanize your application and set yourself apart from other applicants with strong profiles. 


The “Why Major” essay is especially important, as it allows you to reflect on your unique interests and fit with the school. Your supplement needs to demonstrate your interest in the major and paint a picture of how you’ll contribute to their program.


To understand if your essay is strong enough, we recommend using our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. This tool will make it easier to understand your essay’s strengths and weaknesses, and help you make your writing even more compelling.