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Should I Apply to a Less Competitive Major to Increase My Chances of Acceptance?

female student studying computer science
Nicole Doyle College Admissions Advisor

Written by Nicole Doyleon February 28th, 2023

I came to College Coach after working in college admissions for many years. At Holy Cross, I was a work-study student in the admissions office, a tour guide, and a senior interviewer. After graduation, I spent one year in Seattle as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corp and then returned to the East Coast to work as an admissions counselor at Holy Cross. As part of that job, I traveled to England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Greece. When I was promoted to assistant director of admissions and international student recruiter, I added Central America to my territory. While at Holy Cross, I also organized the student Ambassador Program, hosted prospective student receptions, and read over 1,000 applications each season. I was also an athletics liaison for men’s hockey, baseball, women’s soccer, and softball. At Skidmore College, I interviewed prospective students and their families, conducted information sessions, and annually reviewed close to 1,800 domestic and international admissions applications.
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by Nicole Doyle, former admissions officer at College of the Holy Cross Computer science is one of the most selective majors at colleges and universities around the country.  We are often asked, “Should I apply as a less competitive major to increase my chances of getting admitted, then try to change my major later?” We also hear this question from students considering other popular majors, like engineering, nursing, and business. Your Major Selection Strategy: Questions to Consider Before going down this path, it is important to ask yourself a few questions:
  1. Am I genuinely interested in pursuing a degree in computer science (or business or engineering), or am I primarily being influenced by family and friends to apply to this field?
  2. What is more important: getting into my desired major or attending a particular “dream” school? (Maybe starting at the age of five, you learned about the football program at University of Southern California and have been in love with the school since that time. If you were not admitted to your desired major, would you not want to attend, or would you be happy to attend USC no matter your area of study?)
  3. Is it even possible at my prospective schools to change my major later?
Does the College Consider Major in the Admissions Process? It is also important to understand how the universities and colleges on your list admit students. Some grant applicants general admission, meaning prospective students aren’t evaluated for or immediately admitted to any one major. For example, students who attend the University of Chicago do not have to declare a major until second semester of junior year. So, for schools like Chicago, there is no need to think about major selection strategy. But other universities do closely consider applicants’ fit for specific majors. Admission offices may expect computer science and engineering applicants to have taken courses in subjects like calculus and physics; nursing applicants to have spent time observing or volunteering in a clinical setting; or business applicants to have joined clubs like DECA or FBLA. Any way that a student is able learn more and immerse themselves in their possible field of interest is appreciated! You can usually determine if a university’s admissions process is major-specific by reading their admissions website, attending virtual or in-person info sessions, or by emailing or calling the admissions office. What Is the College’s Policy on Switching Majors? The main reason to be cautious of applying to a major you don’t actually want, in the hopes that you can move into your preferred major later (sometimes called a “backdoor” approach), is that it can be challenging to make that move. For example, if a student is admitted to the UCLA School of Arts and Sciences, it can be very difficult to transfer into the Schools of Business or Engineering. If you decide you want to move into a competitive major later, it’s important to determine if that is even a possibility at the schools on your list. Again, this info can usually be found via the admissions office. Students need to stay true to themselves throughout the admission process and to ask themselves, “What are my ultimate goals and priorities in college?” Think about your interests and determine what you truly want to pursue, then make a major choice that feels right for you—and will help you meet your goals.

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