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Frequently Asked Questions About 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?


Most colleges will have some variation of a prompt that asks you to explain your interest in your intended major. Here are a couple of examples:


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) 


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. (300-450 words)


These essays are all asking the same general question: “why do these areas of interest that you selected appeal to you?” Colleges want to know about what makes you tick academically and intellectually, but unfortunately these prompts don’t give you very much space to discuss this.  Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the question isn’t asking you to lock yourself into a particular major but rather to explain your passions,intellectual curiosities, and how they have developed through experiences and extracurriculars. Colleges know that students often change their minds and don’t expect you to stick to the major you apply with.


Additionally, there are some other questions nested inside this prompt. Generally, you want to discuss how this academic background contributes to your future career or goals. Some prompts will also explicitly ask what courses, programs, or extracurriculars you plan on taking advantage of at that school. If you make sure to address these questions, the admissions officers reading your essay have a better idea of whether or not you will be a good academic fit. 


No matter how this essay prompt is phrased, you want to make sure that you cover why you want to study this major and why you want to study at that school in particular.


How do you connect an anecdote to the prompt?


When using an anecdote to illustrate the beginning of your interest in a major or field of study, it’s important to show how this story led to a passion and then how that passion manifests itself in who you are in the present. 


One way you can do this is through the tense of the verbs you use. You can begin by telling your anecdote in the past tense and then go on to talk about your passion or interest in the present tense. This effectively creates a narrative that transitions from past to present smoothly and helps the reader understand that this is still something you are passionate about. After you’ve established where you are today, you are free to discuss how this interest has influenced your intended field of study.


It can sometimes help to introduce an intermediate time point to show how your interest in this subject has progressed over time. For instance, if you are somebody who used to sit in the library pulling books off the shelf, you can end your anecdote by stating that this is still part of your daily routine. 


There are different ways to utilize anecdotes, but you want to make sure that you are eventually connecting your anecdote to the present day instead of skipping to the future. And finally, you absolutely must answer the prompt by discussing how your present day interest affects your intended major. Failing to correctly answer the prompt or connect the anecdote to the present day are common traps that people fall into when writing this essay.


Is it effective to write about an experience from either your Junior or Senior year?


You can absolutely talk about something that happened recently! While many people think it is most effective to discuss an anecdote that happened a long time ago that was the start of their passion, it can be just as impactful to discuss an experience that solidified your interest in a particular area or subject. 


It’s all about how you write the essay. If you are struggling to write something that seems passionate, going to the distant past may be an easier way to do this since it shows how this interest has been on your mind for many years. However, if you are a skilled writer and you have a compelling anecdote from one or two years ago, that is absolutely valid and may be just as good at communicating your passion for your intended major. 


This essay is all about focusing on different stages of the development of your passion and how you talk about it. As long as you can communicate genuine interest through an anecdote, this will color your essay with the tone of authentic interest and intent that admissions officers are looking for.


How do you handle a short essay length (< 500 words)?


Supplemental essays, such as the “why major” essay, often will have a word limit between 50–500 words. For shorter essays, you will likely have to focus on one anecdote that can concisely convey your point and then tie the story back to the prompt via your reflections. However, for longer essays, you might be able to tell a longer narrative, where the anecdote is used to illustrate your personal growth or the birth of a new interest or passion. 


When writing such short essays, we recommend making an outline before you even begin writing. You can even reuse this outline for multiple schools’ “why major” supplemental essay. You mainly just want to plan out the flow of the essay, so it could look something like this:


  • Introduction – introduce the essay with an anecdote that is memorable and specific for you
  • Connect the anecdote to the present day – some connection between the anecdote and who you are now as a person or as a student
  • Goals for the future – discuss how this anecdote has contributed to your goals for the future, possibly beyond college
  • Conclusion – close the essay by showing how studying a given major at the school you are applying to will help you reach your goals


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.