Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author
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.