Should I Apply to a College with Only a Few Majors?
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Top colleges tend to offer a wide range of options for your major, concentration, or whatever term they use for your main field of study. Many top colleges offer 50 or more major choices, and some large flagship state universities offer well over a hundred. Some even allow you to design your own major, giving you even more freedom to choose what you’d like to study.
With opportunities like these available, you might be surprised to find that certain other colleges offer far fewer choices when it comes to your major. These schools provide less variety and flexibility in their academic programs, making the process of changing your plans (if that becomes necessary) more difficult. However, for some students, being in a highly focused and supportive environment dedicated to a particular field is totally worth it.
If you’re absolutely sure that you know what you’d like to major in, schools that focus on your particular field and don’t offer many (or any) other majors may be worth your attention. Read on to find out more about what these programs look like, their potential advantages, and how to decide whether a college with limited majors is right for you.
Which colleges offer a limited number of majors?
With over 7,000 institutions of higher education currently operating in the United States, there is a huge variety of approaches to education out there, including more than a few colleges that focus on a small number of majors. Among colleges that are better known on a national level, this type of specialized program is most often found in a few specific areas. Three of these areas are engineering, business, and the fine and performing arts.
Being an engineering major is often an intensely focused experience requiring a large number of specialized courses, so the field is a natural fit for a specialized undergraduate program. Engineering schools are uniquely well-equipped to give students the knowledge and training they need to succeed in their field, and can also facilitate job placement through campus recruiting programs.
A particularly extreme example of this type of program is Olin College, a small and recently founded engineering college located in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. Olin students can choose between three majors (all within the field of engineering) and take most of the same courses. While other courses are offered and students can cross-register at nearby schools like Wellesley College, Olin is a school that purposefully fosters a tight-knit, highly engineering-focused community.
At a number of other universities, undergraduate programs in engineering are part of a different college or school within the university than most other undergraduate programs. Administrative details are different at each university — for instance, some engineering colleges have their own application procedures, but others don’t. You’ll need to research your programs of choice individually for more details.
Most business schools are inhabited by graduate students, specifically candidates for the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree, who may come from any undergraduate field. However, some schools allow undergraduates to get started in business right away. Undergraduate business programs allow their students to concentrate full-time on the skills they’ll need to succeed in the business world, and also typically make helping students find internships and other opportunities a priority.
Since business, economics, and similar majors are often seen as a pathway to a lucrative career, these programs are popular among college applicants; in fact, according to USA Today, business administration and management is the most popular major among college students today. With this much interest in the field, it’s relatively easy for business programs to become large enough to be colleges unto themselves.
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is host to a particularly prestigious example of an undergraduate business program. Wharton has its own application process within the university, requiring applicants to apply specifically to Wharton, and all of its students earn a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. However, students at Wharton live alongside other UPenn students and can take other UPenn courses.
Fine and Performing Arts Colleges
Art students have a reputation for being unusual and different from other college students, and to a certain extent, that’s often true — their courses, grading criteria, and goals differ from those of many other students. While many schools offer art programs or courses, designated fine and performing art schools provide places for students to grow in their artistic talents, which requires somewhat different resources, spaces, and institutional priorities than, for instance, a liberal arts college.
This isn’t to say that you can’t get a solid education at an arts school. These schools may maintain partnerships or cross-registration agreements with other colleges in order to give their students more options for academic coursework. For the most part, however, they work to create an atmosphere where creativity flourishes and arts students can get guidance that matches their specific needs.
Some of the better-known undergraduate art schools in the United States include the Rhode Island School of Design, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Pratt Institute. In the world of performing arts, Julliard is a particularly well-known school, as is the New England Conservatory, which offers a handful of different musical majors.
Why limit yourself to only a few major options?
You may be wondering why a college applicant would choose to attend a college where students are limited to only a few possible majors. After all, it’s not uncommon for college students to change majors or reassess their priorities after they matriculate, and 17 or 18 is an awfully young age to be making decisions that restrict one’s future choices to such an extent.
However, subject-focused colleges with limited choices of majors offer some definite advantages if you’re truly sure about what you want to study. In exchange for giving up some flexibility and variety, you’ll get the opportunity to deeply investigate your main interest within a community that’s uniquely focused on that field.
You’ll also get the social and community benefits of being around people who share your priorities and goals. Again, while this atmosphere isn’t for everyone, some students really thrive in it and enjoy spending time with like-minded peers both inside and outside of the classroom.
You may also get a head start on building your career if you attend a college with limited major options. Since these programs are limited in scope, they can devote more resources to training you to succeed in that field, rather than accommodating students with a wide range of different goals. You’ll get ahead on showing your dedication to this career path, and you won’t have to wait for graduate school (as many students do) to focus more specifically on what matters most to you.
Obviously, many college applicants aren’t going to be interested in very specific undergraduate programs. This can be a boon for you if you are interested. Self-selection pares down the number of other applicants you’ll have to compete against. Your program will likely turn out to be small, which potentially gives you a better student-instructor ratio and more personal attention — something that students at larger colleges may only wish they could access.
Finally, just because you attend a college with limited major options doesn’t mean that you’ll be entirely cut off from other subjects that interests you. Many of these schools offer courses in other subjects and require you to take classes in a variety of different fields to graduate. Some also maintain cross-registration agreements with other colleges, whether within the same university system or otherwise, allowing you to access some of the resources of a less restrictive or differently focused school.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying
Highly specialized undergraduate programs aren’t for everyone, but if you’re eager to totally immerse yourself in your academic subject of choice, a program of this type might sound like a tremendously exciting possibility. However, it’s still wise to think carefully about whether a program like this is right for you and meets your needs.
Here’s what you should consider when you’re making the decision:
- How sure am I that this is really what I want to study? This is the key question. If your intended major represents a slight preference that’s liable to change rather than a driving passion, you’re likely better suited to a school with more options.
- Have I sufficiently explored the other fields I might be interested in? High schools usually only teach a limited range of subjects, so you might not even know what your other options are. Take a look at the lists of majors offered by various colleges — is there something else that stands out to you?
- What are the job prospects for this field or path? Research what jobs this degree might lead to, what those jobs pay, and whether they’re a good fit for you and for the adult life you’d like to lead.
- Will I feel excessively restricted by the limited offerings at this school? The classes you take outside your major matter, and while most specialized colleges also offer some courses on other topics, you likely won’t encounter the variety and quality of courses that you would have elsewhere. This may or may not be a big deal to you.
- Do I want to be in a campus environment where everyone is studying the same things? Some people prefer to live on a campus that includes people with many different interests. Others love the camaraderie that can develop in a more focused program. There are pros and cons either way, and it’s a matter of personal preference.
- Am I willing to risk the time and effort it would take to transfer out if I change my mind? As you’ll see later in this post, that time and effort might end up being substantial, and transfer admission for top schools is quite competitive. You’ll have to decide whether you want to take the risk of needing to transfer later.
What if I change my mind?
Even if you do your best to consider every outcome and make an informed decision about whether to attend a school that offers only a few majors, there’s still a chance you’ll change your mind later on. Your college years will involve a great deal of growth and change, and it’s not unusual for students to reconsider their initial plans.
If you no longer want to stick to the narrow specialization of your college, your best option will be to transfer to another college. This is usually doable, but it does require you to go through the application process all over again, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be accepted to a school that suits you better.
To learn more about what transfer applications involve, take a look at our blog post A Guide to Transferring: What You Need to Know About the Transfer Admissions Process. The process can offer students a valuable second chance at finding a school that’s a good fit, but it also has its downsides and risks.
Transferring can be a lot easier if, instead of transferring from one institution to another, you’re applying to transfer from one college to another within the same university. This approach can sometimes be nearly as simple as just changing your major within the same college. Every school is different, however, and if you take this path, you’ll have to do some careful research about the requirements and restrictions at your particular institution.
Most students reading this post won’t end up attending a college that only offers a few majors — they’re not common, and many students prioritize the greater freedom and flexibility that less specialized colleges offer. If you’re one of the few who’s interested in entering a school and a community that’s specifically dedicated to your field, however, doing so can be a uniquely rewarding experience that may prepare you especially well for your chosen career.
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