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Is It Bad to Apply to College as an Undeclared Major?

As you’re applying to colleges, you may be wondering whether undeclared majors are at a disadvantage in the admissions process. Most students aren’t 100% sure of what they want to major in as a high school senior. But is it wise to put undeclared on your college application, or will colleges question your commitment? 

You’re not alone

The good news is, college admissions offices recognize that many students aren’t sure of their intended major. This typically won’t be seen as a detriment to your application. It can demonstrate that you are thoughtful and intentional with your intended field of study. In fact, it shows that you are part of the 75% of students who either enter college as an undeclared major or change their major. If you feel insecure about your undeclared status, don’t! You are in very good company. Here are all the other relevant factors to help you decide whether to apply to college as an undeclared major.

What is a declared major on a college application?

Most college applications include a field to list your intended major. This can be in the Common App, the Coalition App, or colleges’ individual application portals. The admissions office will see this information, and if you attend the college, it may be in the registrar as your initial declared major. But beyond this, it has very little significance. In most settings, incoming students have the option to change their major for several years. 

The other possible significance of a major declared on your application could be your advising group during freshman year. At colleges where you are matched with an academic advisor, they often sort students by their intended major. So, if you choose “English” on your college application and end up attending that school, your initial academic advisor may be an English professor. If you are part of a cohort of advisees, the other advisees may also be intended English majors.

Your intended major is non-binding

Remember, your intended major will not obligate you to graduate with that major. In fact, it typically won’t even have to impact your first semester schedule! Applying to college as an undeclared major, or as any major, won’t impact your college experience once you arrive. You can typically change your major without any consequences until sophomore or junior year. As long as you are still on track to fulfill the requirements, you can graduate at the same time you had planned.

The notable exception to this is cases in which you are applying to a specific college within a university. For example, computer science majors at the University of Illinois will apply directly to the CS school. In this case, the major you put on your application will have more impact. However, if you are accepted, you will usually be able to change your major within the accepted school. For example, you could change from one computer science-related degree to another. This is in the case that both majors are offered by the school that accepted you.

Choose an option that compliments your essays

If your essays emphasize your interest in one particular field, you may want to declare that major on your application. This shows that you have a clear plan for your education. It shows a solid follow-through from your essays. For example, if your essays are all about your passion for justice and law, consider declaring political science.

On the other hand, if your essays are about finding your way in the world, consider applying as undeclared. Some colleges, especially liberal arts schools, appreciate students who are looking for an interdisciplinary education. If you show that you are looking to explore many different academic fields, they may be more eager to accept you. It can demonstrate that you are a good fit for the school and have similar academic curiosities.

Summing it up: Should I apply as undeclared?

Are you still wondering if you should apply to college as an undeclared major? Here’s our litmus test. If you are applying to a specific college within a university that specializes in one field, such as pre-med or computer science, you need to declare your intent to study within that field. Otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to apply as an undeclared major!

Some students may have a tentative major but not be 100% sure. And some colleges don’t include an option to apply as undeclared in their application. If this is the case, don’t sweat. Just choose a field that you are interested in, or that you discuss in your essays. You can always change it later, at no penalty to yourself. Most of the time, your intended major will not be a big determining factor in your admission. Colleges know that students change their mind about what they want to study. They encourage you to find the right field for you once you arrive.

Additional resources for students applying to college

If you’re in the midst of filling out college applications, you’re probably full of questions. Luckily, we’ve got answers. If you’re looking for help writing essays, we’ve got guides on how to write about yourself, write a 250 word essay, and write a 500 word essay. You can also look at our guides to how to pick a college and how to fill out other parts of the Common App. These include the Additional Information Section, the Honors Section, and the Activities Section. And if you’re considering early decision or early action, we can help with that choice too! Good luck, and make sure to check back with us if you have any questions.