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Articles / Applying to College / Majors and College Search

Majors and College Search

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | April 23, 2005

Question: I don't understand the concept of majors. When choosing colleges, should we select those that have all the majors we're interested in, or just one?

This "major" issue can be confusing indeed ... and sometimes even a "major" pain. :-) When you apply to some colleges, you need to have a major in mind and then you must apply not only to the college itself but also to your specific major or program. Sometimes, you may not need to choose a major, but you do need to apply directly to a specific "school" within a university (e.g., "School of Education," "School of Allied Health Sciences," etc.).

Whenever you apply to a college that asks you to list your choice of major on your application, be sure to find out if that choice is "binding." That is, ask admission officials if you can switch your major as soon as you enroll, if you so choose. At some places, it is hard to make a change once you've committed.

Not surprisingly, many high school seniors do not know what their college major will be and--even those who do--often want the flexibility to change their minds. Luckily, most colleges don't require you to commit to a major at the time of your application (though many WILL ask what your possible major or primary areas of academic interest might be).

If you do have a major in mind--or more than one--then it certainly makes sense to apply to colleges or universities that offer these options. Some majors--like biology, psychology, English, history, etc.--are so very common that nearly every institution (except the more specialized ones) will offer them. However, there are also unusual fields (e.g., "Soil Science," "Recreation Therapy," "Jewelry Design") that won't be widely available. So, of course, if you think you may be interested in an atypical field, then you would be wise to consider only those colleges that offer it.

Keep in mind, however, that--in most cases--a college major is made up of only about 10 to 12 courses, and most college students take about 32 courses during their four undergraduate years. (Requirements vary from major to major and from college to college, but those are ballpark figures.) So, even once you've determined your major for sure (which may not happen until the start of your junior year), you will usually have lots of opportunity to take classes outside of your major field.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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