What majors will help me get into college? Are there any that will work against me? How do I figure this out at each school?


Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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This is one of those questions that get bounced around among parents and applicants. There are some majors and schools within a school that are incredibly competitive to get into. And they can make it tougher to be admitted to a particular college. That said, there are some that are admissions friendly and make you a more attractive admit. All of this really depends on the college, the major and importantly your academic profile.

When I think of a specific course of study that makes it tougher to get into a particular college, the Wharton Business School (undegrad) at the University of Pennsylvania comes to mind. At U Penn, applicants must select a school for admission, say Wharton or another such as the College of Arts and Sciences. However, if Wharton is what you want, you'll likely face your steepest competition in trying to win admission to this program. As a result, applicants may try to psych the system out and apply to a less popular school/major. Their thinking is that once they've been admitted, they'll be able to transfer into Wharton. But schools like U Penn have caught on and made this incredibly tough. To make sure this is discouraged, they even mention it in their info sessions. Another school where students may face the same hurdle is the Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse University. Before using your choice of major as strategy, do your homework and research the school's intra-admission criteria.

At many schools, business is increasingly a popular major - it's practical, it's relevant, you'll likely find a job after graduation. Again, depending on the school and other variables, this can work against you, or not. If you have the grades and scores to get in, and the school requires you apply to a specific program my feeling is it's best to get in up front. If you go the roundabout way, this may require you get super high grades your first year, a tall order. At Columbia University withdrawing from some programs to apply to another (within the university) can require you to re-apply as though you were a senior all over again. Risky, and hardly fun.

It is true that some majors may increase your odds of getting in. There is a big push on STEM right now, and girls going into this have an advantage. There is still a shortage of women in this field, although the gap is closing. Science and women are a good thing. Science in general is a good thing. However even with the sciences you'll still need to do your homework and research the numbers. In the last two years bio-medical engineering has become so sought after, it's been a tougher major at many schools to win admissions to (this may depend on how many spots they offer.)

Of course there are very eccentric majors, like turf management for example. If this is your passion, and you are a match for this type of study, it's likely you will have a positive outcome.

My feeling is it's best to be honest and authentic, and not try to overly manipulate the process. If you are torn between two majors, and you learn one is less popular than the other, sure go for that one. It can help. But only if the ability to switch out at a later point is not daunting. At many schools you can go in undecided and this generally will not hurt you. It may not advantage you, but your other options may be limited, or even worse.

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Trying to play a game with applying when it comes to which college within a school is a dangerous game. Some colleges ask that you indicate what college within a school might be your choice. The urban legend at Penn State was apply for the Agriculture School and then transfer colleges. This is a myth! I would agree with those other experts: BE AUTHENTIC.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher, Author, and Artist

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Yes, I just wanted to elaborate on the last sentence of the above posting. This was the case when I applied to colleges - you are not required to declare a major in most schools until your junior year. Therefore, you have 2 years to make up your mind as to exactly which major you want to pursue. If you already know what you want to major in, you are ahead of the game for sure. Then you are getting even more particular, and can select a particular department within a university or college within a college, and be on an early fast track, but those can be very competitive for sure (i.e. The Wharton School mentioned above). I attended a very sought after film school in the College of Communication at Boston University, which was not easy to get into, but it took me 2 years of taking undergraduate required classes before I was ready to decide to pursue this field. I don't believe any major can "work against you" unless the program at the school is not very good or renowned. But as long as you are studying what you want to study, and you are passionate about it, and it can eventually get you gainfully employed, you cannot lose or be hurt. The one thing I would be careful of is paying a ton of money for a subject that you might love or may give you a great education, but will leave you with no chance of getting hired (unless you are strictly interested in learning, but not working in that field). It's a good idea to look at salaries paid in the field you are after as well because some might not pay as well as you think they would, and by contrast, some fields might pay a lot more than you might think (fields you may have otherwise overlooked). And finally, as to your last question, just remember that some schools may have a great reputation as a school overall, but they could be weak in the field that you want to major in. I had that experience at Tulane University, which obviously has a great Medical, Law, and Architecture School as well as some sciences and humanities, but they were relatively weak in communications. That is what led me to transfer to BU, so I'd say you should choose the school you like first, but as time goes by, you need to be more and more picky and selective about the major, and college you wish to ultimately get a degree from.

Dave Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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There are no majors that will give you an advantage for getting into college, but what major you pick can remove some disadvantages. The most popular majors are often ones related to engineering, biomedical science, business, and psychology. These departments get many more applications than other departments, and so they are more selective. Their higher standards regarding who gets into the major will require that you have better grades, scores, and extracurricular activities.

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