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Major Selection is a Major Deal: How to Strategize for College Applications

Sign outside The University of Texas at Austin's Moody College of Communication with the department name

Major selection is an important part of the holistic review process colleges use to assess students for admission. Students being admitted by major means that admissions officers consider the (often limited) amount of space available in a specific department when assessing students’ strengths. 

Many factors go into evaluating a student’s fit for their chosen major. Has the student demonstrated success in advanced coursework in the subject area? Do the student’s standardized testing scores reflect preparedness for college-level coursework? Has the student completed relevant internships, summer programs, shadowing experiences, and/or research opportunities in the field? Is the student able to express their passion in short answer writing responses? 

Another component to consider is which “school” or department a major is part of, as this can help students anticipate how competitive the applicant pool will be. For example, UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business houses the Marketing major. A similar major—Advertising—is housed in the less selective Moody College of Communication. Due to McCombs’ selective 14% acceptance rate, a student interested in the general realm of marketing/advertising/public relations might make a strategic choice to apply with Advertising as their first choice major instead of Marketing to increase their chances of admission.

Understanding College Majors

Different majors have different numbers of “hours” required to complete them. College classes are categorized by credit hours. At many institutions, most semester-long classes are worth three credits, and around 120 credits are required to graduate. Taking five classes, each worth three credit hours, would earn a student 15 credit hours in a semester.

Major programs can vary in the credit hours required to complete them, but many fall within 20-40 hours. A class with an additional component like a lab might be worth four credit hours. A once-weekly seminar class might only be worth one credit hour.

When completing a major, there will be some required courses, including introductory and seminar courses, along with a designated set of electives. Oftentimes, there is a research component (like an honors thesis) or an independent experience opportunity (like an internship or fieldwork). 

For example, A&M’s B.S. in Animal Science includes introductory coursework in animal science, biology, and chemistry in addition to a senior year “Animal Science Experience” completed through active participation in an experiential learning opportunity like an internship or career-focused research endeavor. 

Alternate Major Options

Popular majors like computer science, business, and biology have many related majors that may help students put forward a more competitive profile and increase their chances of admission by applying to less-competitive programs and/or departments. 

It can be beneficial for students to consider alternate majors in related fields in order to increase their chances of admission. Selecting relevant majors in different departments or colleges can give students a competitive edge they may not have among applicants to popular and/or incredibly selective majors.

Students’ profiles (their course history, extracurricular and volunteering experience, skills and hobbies, research and awards, and more) should be carefully framed to support their interest and the trajectory indicated by their intended major.

Interested in Computer Science? Consider:

  • Computer/Electrical Engineering

  • Information Systems

  • Informatics

  • Management Information Systems

  • Data Science

  • Statistics

  • Applied Math

  • Graphic Design

  • Physics

Interested in Business? Consider:

  • Economics

  • Actuarial Science

  • Statistics & Data Science

  • International Relations

  • Mathematics

  • Advertising

  • Public Relations

  • Marketing

Interested in Biology? Consider:

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Neuroscience

  • Psychology

  • Kinesiology 

  • Public Health

  • Nutritional Sciences

  • Biomathematics

  • Bioinformatics

  • Applied Science

  • Laboratory Science

Do you need additional support this summer navigating the college admissions process? Consider signing up for our Summer Gateway Program, which is designed to guide students through college admissions with a designated Gateway counselor. You'll plan and work on your applications and essays with someone who manages your entire college admissions strategy. Not only that, you'll get additional guidance from essay specialists and other counselors in classroom-setting workshops.


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