What is Intended Major? How Does it Impact College Admissions?

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What’s Covered:

 

As a high school student, you’ve probably felt constrained by the prescribed curriculum at times and wondered why you really need to learn, say, calculus if you’re planning on pursuing a career in history. The good news is that once you get to college, you’ll have a lot more freedom to choose your curriculum.

 

At the heart of your studies is your major. When you apply to college, you don’t have to have it all figured out — few 17 or 18 year olds do — but you may have an idea of what you’d like to study. This is where your intended major enters the picture.

 

What Does “Intended Major” Mean?

 

Like it sounds, your intended major is the discipline you plan to study in college. When you apply, most colleges will ask you to put down one or several intended majors, the majors you think you’ll choose when it comes time to declare. 

 

Some particularly selective majors at certain colleges require separate or additional applications, such as Johns Hopkins University’s prestigious Biomedical Engineering (BME) program. In cases like this, you must declare your intention to study the subject when you apply. You may also be admitted to the school but not the program itself. 

 

But in most cases, your intended major is simply that: an intention to study a discipline, not set in stone.

 

When Do You Declare Your Major?

 

The requirements for declaring a major vary from school to school. Most schools ask you to declare your major by the end of sophomore year, while still allowing you to do so earlier, such as at the end of freshman year. Some majors like neuroscience at Amherst College require you to write up a plan of all the courses you plan to take and when in order to fulfill the requirements. The plan of action to declare your major will vary of course from school to school so be sure to speak with your advisor to stay on top of deadlines. 

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Can You Change Your Major?

 

You can absolutely change your major from the intended major you put on your application in the vast majority of cases. And many students change majors throughout college, too — sometimes even more than once. However, be careful about changing majors too late, because this will inevitably delay your graduation since you’ll still need to complete requirements for the newest major.

 

At some colleges, it’s more difficult to change majors once you’ve declared, especially if the university contains multiple schools and you’re hoping to change majors across different schools. For example, at Cornell University, where you’ll initially be accepted to a specific college within the larger university, you must undergo a transfer process to change schools.

 

How to Pick Your Intended Major

 

While you don’t usually need to stick with your intended major, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put thought into choosing it. When completing your college applications, consider factors like:

 

Your interests

 

What do you actually like to do? Read? Conduct experiments? Play sports? Given the abundance of majors available, you’ll more than likely find something that correlates to your passions.

 

Your profile

 

What do your transcript and extracurricular activities support? If you’ve taken plenty of science and math AP courses and participated in, say, Science Olympiad, you’re probably looking at a STEM major. Meanwhile, if you’re a writer who is excellent in humanities courses and served as editor of your school newspaper, English or creative writing is probably more up your alley.

 

Your career goals

 

Of course, you don’t need to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life right now, but you may have some idea. While many people don’t necessarily end up going into the field in which they majored, your ambitions can help you decide what to study in college and provide some direction. Keep in mind, too, that many majors can apply to numerous career paths, such as most humanities majors, while others have a more direct route, like engineering majors.

 

How Does Your Intended Major Impact College Admissions?

 

Usually, your intended major won’t affect your chances of admission too much, unless you apply to a specific school or program within a university that’s particularly competitive, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In 2020, the Penn acceptance rate for undergraduates was around 9%, while Wharton’s was a full two percentage points lower. 

 

It’s not a good idea to apply with an “easier” major (not the one you really want) and attempt to transfer internally later on. Often transferring within the school is extremely selective, and you may actually be lowering your chances of initial acceptance if your profile isn’t consistent with the supposed easier major. While most colleges don’t publish statistics about internal transfer acceptance rates, generally speaking, it’s quite difficult to transfer to more challenging schools with lower acceptance rates, such as Cornell’s College of Engineering. 

 

Curious about your chances of acceptance with your chosen major? By inputting your data, including intended major, GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars, into CollegeVine’s chancing engine, you’ll learn your chances of admission to your dream school. It’s completely free to use!

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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