Do You Have to Choose a Major When Applying for College?

So, you’re filling out the Common App. You come across a section where you have to identify your first choice and second choice major. But you have absolutely no idea what major to go for.

Should you select a major randomly in order to have a more complete-looking application or simply put “undecided”?

Unless the academic program requires applicants to commit to a major right away, undergraduate students can go to college undeclared. It’s usually by the end of their sophomore year when they have to declare a major. In most instances, undergraduate students can change majors without much trouble.

In a panic because, apparently, it’s not just a college you have to pick but a major, too? Read on!

Is It a Requirement to Declare a Major?

Undergraduate students are required to declare a major in order for them to earn a bachelor’s degree. As a matter of fact, it’s when students declare a major that their undergraduate degree program becomes defined and organized. Even at schools with an open curriculum, declaring a major has to be done.

undecided college student

Typically, the first two years of college are spent completing general education or gen ed courses such as English, history, science and math. General education requirements make up around 50% of college.

Perhaps you have already heard that some colleges and universities have an open curriculum where students have the option to design their own programs of study.

This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that open curriculum students don’t choose majors — it’s just that they are not required by the school to complete any core requirements in order for them to earn a degree. Core requirements go by different names, including general education and shared experience.

At an open curriculum college or university, it’s possible to graduate without a major.

However, in most instances, it happens only because students fail to fulfill their major requirements. When this occurs, students graduate receiving a general degree, such as a Liberal Arts degree. However, this is often considered a last resort and only some open curriculum schools may allow this.

Planning to attend a college or university with an open curriculum? Then make sure that you carefully choose a major when applying to it or before the end of your sophomore year there — just like everybody else at other schools.

When is the Best Time to Declare a Major?

The time students are required to commit to a major can vary from one institution to the other. However, at most colleges and universities, undergraduate students are not required to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year in order to give them plenty of time to check out various electives.

In most instances, you don’t have to worry about picking a major for the first two years of college. So, in other words, you can focus more on picking the right institution rather than the right major for you.

A lot of schools give their students up to two years to decide on a major. And it’s for undergrads to:

  • Have enough time to explore different electives, thus allowing them to be able to figure out which major and career path is the perfect fit.
  • Complete as many general education courses as they possibly can, thus giving them plenty of time — the last two years of college — to focus on major courses.

However, the best time to declare a major is, as always, on a case-to-case basis. In some instances, you will have to declare one while applying to a college.

That’s because some programs require undergraduate students to take prerequisite classes, sometimes as early as during the freshman year of college.

Can You Change Majors After Being Accepted?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), around 80% of all undergraduate students in the US change their majors at least once. So, in other words, switching majors is very common. However, some schools may not allow it after students have been accepted into certain programs.

Over a million students each year apply using the Common App to more than 900 member institutions.

The popular undergraduate college admission application itself says that students should not allow choosing a major while filling out the Common App to slow down the process as they can always make changes afterward.

However, it adds that those whose majors are some of the most competitive should provide an alternate major just in case they fail to meet the more competitive entrance requirements for their first-choice majors — they will be prompted by the Common App to do so if they choose the following competitive majors:

  • Art
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Journalism and Technical Communication

But in most instances, college students can change their majors anytime if their schools allow it.

As a matter of fact, if you like, you can switch majors during the last year or even semester of college.

However, you could put some hard-earned units to waste and even spend more time in school — it’s not unlikely for switching majors to result in one additional semester or two.

It could also cost you an additional of about $20,000 for every change in major.

choosing major

Is It Hard to Change Majors?

The first step to changing majors is consulting the academic advisor. The best advisor to meet is the one from the intended major, although the current academic advisor may be consulted as well. Students who like to switch majors must meet the academic requirements and submit the required paperwork.

Changing majors can be either trouble-free or challenging — it depends on whether you know which major to switch to and you have already made up your mind or you are still on the fence as to which new major to pick.

No matter the case, it all begins with setting up an appointment with an academic advisor from the major you are interested in pursuing. But fret not if his or her schedule is tight and you can’t wait to have a consultation. That’s because the academic advisor from your current major can also lend a helping hand.

This is especially true if you are not still sure about what the new major will be.

A meeting with the academic advisor is the easy part of switching majors. The challenging part is meeting the requirements for admission into the new department or college within the school.

More often than not, you will have to meet the same admissions requirements as those who are applying as first-time, first-year students — it’s just like applying to the very same institution all over again, albeit to a different department or school and that you have already earned some credits from the college or university.

The final step to changing majors is submitting all the necessary paperwork and waiting for the approval of the chair and/or dean from the new major — the academic advisor will keep you posted.

Just Before You Choose a Major

Most of the time, you don’t have to choose a major when applying to college — it is estimated that 20% to 50% of students enter college undecided. So, in other words, there is no need to fret if you cannot decide on a major as of yet.

Got one on your mind but not 100% sure it’s what you like? Feel free to declare it.

That’s because you can always change it at a later time. As a matter of fact, as mentioned earlier, you can switch to a different one even if it’s your last year or semester of college. However, it will cost you time and money, not to mention require you to meet admissions requirements as though you are applying as a fresh high school graduate.

When applying to college, take your time before you declare a major — or apply as undecided and use the first two years of college to figure out which major you should declare, usually by the end of your sophomore year.

Related Questions

How many college majors can you commit to?

At some colleges and universities, students are allowed to pick up to three different majors. However, more commonly, some undergraduate students simply pick up to three areas of study, which results in either one major and two minors or two majors and one minor.

Does taking two college minors result in a major?

Minors are completely separate from majors. Undergraduate students may take minors that are related or unrelated to their majors. Some students may earn a major unknowingly by taking minors whose courses are the requirements for a particular major.

Read Also: Is Going to College Still Worth It?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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