How to Write the “Why This Major” Essay if You’re Undecided
Writing your essays is hard enough. When you’re not sure what you want to study, it can be especially challenging—even more so when you’re tasked with writing the “Why this major?” essay. In the prompt, you’re asked to explain why you’ve chosen to pursue a specific discipline in college.
So, what do you say if you’re undecided? Find out how to respond to this common prompt below—even if you have no specific major in mind.
What is the “Why This Major” Essay?
“Why this major?” is a prompt you’ll find in many different colleges’ application supplements. In your essay, you should explain why you’re drawn to a specific discipline or general area of study, particularly at that school. It’s important to not just explain why you’re interested in studying English at X College, for example, but why what X College’s English program appeals to you specifically.
Examples of the “Why This Major” Essay Prompt
There are many colleges and universities that use this prompt as part of their supplements. Below are just a few examples.
Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (100 words), Purdue
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), Carnegie Mellon
How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree and specialized programs, please answer these questions in regard to your single-degree school choice; your interest in the coordinated dual-degree or specialized program may be addressed through the program-specific essay. (300-450 words), UPenn
Tips for Writing the “Why This Major” Essay When You’re Undecided
So, how do you actually write the “Why This Major” essay if you’re currently undecided? Follow these steps as a general outline to formulate your response.
1. Pick your top 2-3 potential majors and describe your interest in them.
Even if you aren’t sure about your major, you should have at least some ideas. Start broadly—are you interested in STEM? The humanities? Social sciences? What career paths might you pursue, and what majors can help you get there?
Keep in mind that you’re NOT locked into the major(s) that you write about. Many schools don’t even require that you officially declare a major until spring of sophomore year. You can always change your mind—the point of this essay is just to understand what your current goals are, and how the school can support you.
Here’s an example of a potential response: let’s say you’re responding to UPenn’s prompt. You know you want to do something with the humanities but aren’t sure which specific area you’d most like to pursue. After some reflecting, you realize that you devour the latest political news coverage, and you could be interested in the Communication and Political Science majors. This is a good start!
As you describe your interests, it’s important to give some context. How did your interests develop? What experience, if any, do you have with the subjects already? For more tips on providing this context (plus a sample essay), see our post on how to write the “Why This Major” essay.
2. Explain how the topics are connected, if relevant.
If your potential majors are related, it can be helpful to explain why you’re interested in pursuing them both. In the above example, perhaps the student could see themselves as a political journalist. In that case, majoring in Communication and Political Science would give them the knowledge and skills to do just that.
Drawing the link between the majors is especially important if your majors don’t seem directly relevant. Maybe you’re interested in Computer Science and Kinesiology, for example. While they might not seem to have anything to do with one another, these majors would make perfect sense for a student interested in creating fitness trackers.
That being said, your majors don’t have to be directly relevant. If you simply have two disparate majors and don’t know how you can link them, that’s totally okay too.
3. Share your professional plans and ideas.
In your essay, you should outline how your potential majors will help prepare you for a potential career. You don’t need to have any specific plan, but give some general ideas of what you’d like to do professionally.
As mentioned, the student interested in Communication and Political Science might want to become a political journalist, but they might also want to run for public office one day, or even go into academia. The goal is to show how your majors will support your aspirations.
4. Outline how the school can help you achieve your goals.
The “Why This Major?” essay is often truly asking why you want to study that major at that specific school. Beyond describing your interest in potential fields of study, it’s important to highlight how the college can support your academic and career goals.
Let’s continue our UPenn example. After some research, we learn that UPenn Communications majors have the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C. through the Annenberg in Washington program. The program allows students to experience how communication is used in public service, through internships in government and politics, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and more. Students receive a $6,000 stipend for their summer living expenses and may receive course credit. This sort of program would be well-suited for our hypothetical student who might become a political journalist. You want to aim to get just as granular, and look for school-specific resources like these.
If the school has an interdisciplinary program, independent major option, or open curriculum, this is also a great place to mention how these might support your interests. An open curriculum, for instance, is where there are no general education requirements. At open curriculum schools, undecided students have a lot more freedom to try courses in a wide variety of subjects, and eventually settle on a major based on classroom experiences. Similarly, an interdisciplinary program or independent major option allows students to tailor their academic experience to their individual interests. If you’re undecided because traditional majors don’t fully align with your goals, interdisciplinary majors are a great solution.
What NOT to do
1. Say you have no idea.
This makes it sound like you haven’t put much thought into this essay — and into your professional plans. You’ll come across as careless and directionless, two qualities no college wants in its students. At the very least, you need to pick a couple potential interests for your essay.
In your essay, you actually don’t even need to say you’re undecided. The point of this essay is to see what you might be interested in, not what you absolutely will pursue with 100% certainty. Colleges understand that students change their minds, and even those who think they know what they want to study may end up taking a different path.
2. Write the same essay for each school.
You can reuse sections of your essay, especially when giving context for your potential interests, but you shouldn’t be able to reuse the entire thing.
Remember: This question is actually asking “Why do you want to pursue this major at this school?” That means you can’t just recycle the same essay for multiple schools, even if they have similar prompts.
Every essay should offer some specific reasons why you want to study at that particular college. How will it support your interests? What resources can it offer to help you explore your potential interests, decide on a major, and meet your goals?
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