College Major and Admissions


There seems to be a lot of confusion about how the major you list on the application may influence your admission.

A few over-simplifications may help:

A handful of institutions give great weight in the admissions process to the major you select. These schools usually state up front that they have very different admission standards for their different “schools” or “colleges” or “majors” – all of which usually means that the major DOES make a big difference in the process.

Many institutions, however, say they don’t pay any attention to what major you list. This is not surprising as most experts say you’re likely to change your major at least twice before you graduate. In general those institutions, like Mason, follow this model, except:

1) Like many institutions, we have programs with “second gates” as well as programs with slightly different standards. Second gate programs (at Mason this includes business, nursing, and education) require you to attain particular grades, often in particular courses, in college before you are “really” in the major. As a result, these second gate programs don’t impact you at the time of application/admission, but you want to be aware of them before you pick your school.

2) Even at schools that don’t really look at major as a factor (like Mason) there may be a major or two that has some additional admission factors. At Mason, for instance, several engineering programs require higher levels of math courses and review focuses on math grades and scores. At most institutions not qualifying for such a major won’t trigger a denial, but may cause the school to offer you admission to an undeclared or undecided major, and then require a second gate (see number 2!).

3) Finally, even some of the institutions that SAY they don’t care about major aren’t being ENTIRELY honest. This is particularly true if a school is looking to grow a particular major, or needs to diversify enrollment in an area. For instance, nearly every institution needs more men in nursing, dance, and education, but needs more women in the sciences and engineering. That doesn’t necesarily mean they consider these issues in the admissions process (Mason doesn’t), but it means they might, so if you fall into one of those desirable categories (interest and talent for a major that isn’t overloaded by your gender), you may want to list that one on your application.

Also, if a school has a new major (like the amazing new Film and Media Studies major at Mason) they might (if they weren’t already flooded with interest like Mason) have more flexibility in admitting students targeting those majors. Of course, since none of the schools will tell you when this is going on (and since the admissions officers rarely know until they get a call from an academic Dean begging for more, or fewer, of some group) you really can’t do much about it.

Coming up – some insight on how picking/changing your major may impact how long you spend at the school before graduating (or not). Be seeing you.

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