April Maguire 6 min read 12th Grade, Essay Tips

How to Write the “Why this Major” College Essay

The “Why This Major?” essay is a common prompt that nearly every college applicant will have to answer. In this post, we’ll be going over the purpose of this essay, examples of real prompts, sample responses, and expert tips for writing your own essay. If one of the colleges on your list asks you to respond to this prompt, you’ll be well-prepared after reading this post.

 

What is the “Why This Major” Essay?

 

In the college admissions process, you’ll need to submit two main types of essays: the personal statement and supplemental essays. The personal statement is your main application essay that goes to every school you apply to. It tends to be 500-650 words, and it focuses on who you are and what you care about. This includes the Common App essay or Coalition Application essay, but also main application essays for regional platforms, like the University of California essays and ApplyTexas essays.

 

Supplemental essays are school-specific prompts that only go to the school that requests them. You often have to write 1-3 essays that are usually 100-400 words each. These essays are often used to assess your fit with a school, whether that’s in terms of academics or extracurriculars. Common prompts include “Why This College?”, “Describe an Extracurricular,” and “Why This Major?”.

 

As a supplemental essay, the “Why This Major?” prompt asks you to explain your interest in your intended major. Colleges want to understand your academic background, what your intellectual passions are, and what you plan to do professionally. It’s also meant to gauge your academic fit with the college, as you should also cover the school-specific resources that will help you achieve your goals. This prompt should actually be considered “Why This Major at This School?”.

 

Examples of “Why This Major?” Essay Prompts

 

Before we dive in, let’s first take a look at some real-life examples of these prompts.

 

For example, Yale requests that students write a supplemental essay based on the following prompt:

 

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).

 

Similarly, Purdue asks applicants to write 100 words in response to the below statement:

 

“Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected.”

 

Another top college, Carnegie Mellon requires students to discuss the evolution of their proposed field of study in 300 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?”

 

Finally, UPenn asks students to craft a slightly longer essay (300-450 words) explaining how they chose their major:

 

“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.”

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“Why This Major?” Essay Example

 

To give you a better idea of what these essays should actually look like, here’s an example of a response to the “Why This Major?” prompt.

 

Prompt: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke (250 words).

 

One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.

 

Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.

 

This student does a great job of sharing how their interest in biomedical engineering developed. They begin the essay with an anecdote, which is more engaging and personal than simply stating “I want to study X major because…” The student also details how Duke specifically can help them achieve their goal of being an engineer and social advocate. It’s clear they’ve done their research, as they’re able to name resources at Duke, such as DUhatch, The Foundry, and the Bass Connections program.

 

Tips for Writing the “Why This Major?” Essay

 

Answering the “Why This Major?” essay prompt may seem like a difficult task. However, there are tips to help simplify the process and ensure your response addresses the question fully and effectively. Here are three steps for writing a standout essay about your major of choice:

 

1. Share how your academic interest developed. 

 

The first step in crafting an effective “Why This Major?” essay example is explaining your emotional resonance with the subject, and your background in it. While you might be tempted to write about your passion for the subject in flowery language, it’s better to share specific experiences that show how your interest developed. You should cover both the coursework that you’ve done and any relevant extracurricular experiences. If you have space, you can also add in the specific subtopics that interest you within the major (i.e. analyzing gender relations or racism within the broader topic of sociology).

 

You might also consider sharing a short anecdote related to your interest in the major. This is especially effective at the beginning of the essay, as telling a story will draw in the reader while providing context for your academic interest. For example, if you’re interested in attending Yale University to study English, you could start your essay by describing a childhood ritual in which you and your dad went to the library every Saturday. 

 

While anecdotes are effective components of a college essay, students should choose what details to include with care. The most impactful essays tell a story, so you should refrain from listing all of your extracurricular activities that relate to your chosen major. This is not a resume! Instead, find ways of connecting your initial anecdote with your desire to pursue your major. For example, perhaps your early experiences at the library led you to get a job at a local bookstore and organize author readings for the community.

 

2. Detail your reasoning and goals. 

 

It’s not enough to express your passion for a particular subject. You also want to describe your goals and explain how majoring in a field will help you achieve them. Perhaps your early experiences with authors inspired you to start a novel. You can further explain how majoring in English will enable you to study the great works of literature, thereby providing you with the background and foundation needed to find success as a writer. 

 

3. Explain your school choice. 

 

Finally, a “Why This Major?” essay should reveal how the college in question will help you achieve your goals. Your reasons should extend beyond “the college is highly ranked for this major,” and should dive into the curriculum, teaching methodology, and specific classes or resources.

 

For example, if you’re passionate about becoming a writer one day, take time to explain how Yale’s English program will set you on the road to success. Perhaps you’re interested in studying British greats through the famed Yale in London study abroad program. Or, maybe you plan on pursuing the Writing Concentration as a senior to further your creative writing skills. You could also mention a desire to take a particular course, study with a certain professor, or work on the school newspaper. Just be careful not to “name-drop” professors⁠—only mention a specific faculty member if their work is actually highly-relevant to your interests. Otherwise, your interest will look disingenuous.

 

What to Do If You’re Undecided

 

Just because you haven’t decided on a concentration doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to writing the “Why This Major?” essay. If you’re still undecided, you can opt to write about 1-3 potential majors, while detailing how the school can help you meet your goals. For best results, include personal anecdotes about a few academic subjects or courses that have inspired you, and share some potential career paths stemming from them. 

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.