When you fill out your college applications, you may have the option of declaring your intended major. Selecting a major at this stage of the game often isn’t required, and many students don’t. However, you may be wondering –- will declaring a major improve (or potentially hurt) your chances of getting into a college?
Whether it’s better to begin college as an undecided major or select a major before you arrive on campus will depend on your situation, as well as the school and program you are applying to. Here’s what you need to know about applying to college with or without declaring a major.
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What It Means to Declare a Major
Declaring a major can have varying levels of importance, depending on which school you’re applying to. At some schools, choosing a major merely indicates an interest in a field of study.
It could be okay to swap majors later as well, and the major you declare on your application could have little to no bearing on your chances of getting admitted to the school.
However, at some schools, and even within particular programs, declaring a major is a much bigger decision. It indicates that the student only wants to attend for that specific program and could come with more weight on whether the applicant is accepted or not.
It can be a good idea to inquire further from the admissions department at each school you are applying to, or even reach out to the department heads of their prospective majors to learn more.
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What It Means to Be Undeclared
Going into the application process as an undeclared student can be okay, so long as you understand how it could affect your chances of admission. Applying undeclared indicates to a school that you aren’t quite ready to commit to a program yet.
However, by applying at all, you are still showing your commitment and desire to attend that college or university, which may matter most.
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When It Makes Sense to Declare a Major
If you’ve known what you’ve wanted to do since childhood — and there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of your goals — then you may want to go ahead and make that declaration. Manifest it into the universe by saying, “yes, I will study this and only this,” and mark it on every application.
Of course, there are also other reasons to declare. Some programs require choosing a major for admittance. This is typical of particularly competitive programs. This way, admissions officers know who is serious and who isn’t.
Some programs within specific universities may have additional requirements or supplemental essays with student applications. For example, Yale and Cornell both have supplemental essays for students applying to engineering programs. UPenn even requires a separate application for its international business program, the Huntsman.
It’s a good idea to check in with the college or university you are applying to and make certain your application is in order, particularly if you intend on applying to a rigorous or competitive program.
One more reason you may want to consider declaring a major is if you are going to apply for any study-specific scholarships. By declaring a major, you may become eligible for additional financial support including department-specific aid, housing, or professional development that are open only to specific majors.
When It’s OK to Remain Undeclared
Look, no one is going to fault a teenager for not having their entire life mapped out by the time they turn 18. You may know you want to gain a higher education, but are unsure exactly what you want to study, and that is totally okay too.
The good news is, many schools don’t require students to declare a major when they apply. In fact, some colleges and universities require students to take a number of general education courses in their first and second year in school. This provides students with not only a well-rounded education, but also with the opportunity to explore new things and discover potential passions they didn’t know they had before.
Some colleges and universities even offer “undeclared courses” to help students find the right path for them.
Essentially, if you are truly unsure of what you want to study, you will likely want to check “undeclared.” However, you may not want to use this as a way into a college or university believing you can transfer into your preferred program later as there is no guarantee that will happen. At which point, you might have to make a tough decision — pick a new major or transfer schools.
How Being Undeclared Could Affect a College Experience
Being undeclared has both its pros and cons as a college student. As mentioned above, it could afford you more opportunity to explore several different fields of study at once, meet people from across your college, and even potentially decide you want to study more than one field and go for either a dual major or a major and a minor.
However, there are pitfalls you’ll also want to be aware of.
By going into college as an undeclared major, you may end up taking classes that do not count toward their college degree, adding up to both a waste of time and money.
Undeclared students may also find themselves left in the lurch when it comes time to apply to their preferred program. If they do not get in, then they may be forced to quickly pivot and find a new path.
Students admitted to college as an undeclared major may also miss out on important social aspects of college as well. If you declare a major in your third year, you could be entering a program where the rest of the students have all worked and studied together for the previous two years.
College is a surprisingly important place to learn to network and form life-long relationships, and declaring a major early could help.
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Get at Least One Decision Off Your Plate
Whether you decide to go into the application as a declared or undeclared major, it can be a good idea to at least ensure all your financial ducks are in a row to pay for that college education.
Being financially prepared from the get-go can help you feel more at ease with exploring different academic pursuits, or going all-in on your dream program, without worrying about paying for tuition along the way.
A great first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will let you know if you qualify for any federal or state financial aid programs, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans.
Once you get your financial aid package, however, you may find there are still gaps in funding. At this point, you might consider applying for a private student loan. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates and terms will vary depending on the lender, but students who have excellent credit (or who can recruit a cosigner who does) generally qualify for the lowest rates.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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