by Kennon Dick, former admissions officer at Swarthmore College
This is the time when many seniors are turning their attention from their personal statements, like the Common App main essay, to the range of questions colleges ask via supplemental essays. Not every college requires these additional essays, but the ones that do represent a range of schools, from small liberal arts colleges to large public universities. The essay prompts also vary; they may ask about everything from academic interests to favorite movies or TV shows. One of the more popular questions colleges ask is about a student’s interest in a major.
In my view, there are two aspects of this question that students should address.
What Led You to Choose this Major?
First, they need to explain the experience(s) from their lives that led them to their current academic interest. Note that these responses tend to have lower word count limits than personal statements, so answers need to be concise and specific about their inspiration. For example, are they opting for a major in political science because of their positive experience volunteering for a city council candidate? Are they hoping to study computer science because they loved and excelled in their AP Comp Sci class and their school’s Programming Club? Colleges want to know why applicants are a fit for a particular major, and students can demonstrate this fit by sharing their story.
Why Do You Want to Study this Major Here?
The second aspect of this question presents an opportunity for students to both show their knowledge of an area of interest and connect it to a specific campus. This will take some research. Applicants should look at the website for their major’s academic department, where they’ll find faculty bios, research opportunities and programs, as well as internship and industry connections. By reviewing this info, students can identify which elements of the college’s offerings are most aligned with their interests.
For some, identifying these elements and connecting them with their own interests will be easy. For example, if an applicant is interested in high-level quantitative business analysis, then the Mathematical Business major at Wake Forest University might be the perfect academic fit. For others, it may be a collection of details about various academic and co-curricular offerings that help them make the case. This research does two things: it shows the reader you’re interested enough in their school to really do some digging, and, secondly, that their offerings and your interests are a good match for each other. To an admissions officer, this sense of match will further bolster your application. My advice is to take the time to do that research. It will lead to a stronger application and help you choose the college best suited to your needs.