Selecting Undergraduate Majors for American Universities

Ravi Aldis is our Senior Counselor at EduSmith. He graduated from Reed College and has helped students into leading US universities. In this article, he will be sharing insights on what students should consider when deciding on what path to pursue in university.

Choosing a major is one of the most important decisions that college applicants must make. Not only can it determine your future career path and shape your undergraduate experience, but with so many available options, narrowing them down can be overwhelming. 

Fortunately, applicants to American schools have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to major selection. When you apply, you will indicate a ‘prospective’ major and generally formally enroll in a major in your second year. 

  • Ask yourself what subjects or activities you enjoy most and also what you can prove. Are you passionate about science, literature, history, or art? Do you love solving problems, working with people, or creating things? Consider what you have done to showcase your interests and abilities (coursework, projects, competitions…) and what majors fit best with your profile.   
  • Detailed school research is a critical component of the application process. A common misconception is if the school as a whole is top-ranked, then educational quality will be equally strong across all majors. In fact, departments within a single school can vary dramatically in terms of teacher-student ratios, course offerings, research opportunities, and other factors. 

Therefore, when researching schools, closely examine their specific offerings related to the major you are considering. Pay special attention to upper-level (usually listed as ‘200’  or ‘300’) level courses, electives, clubs, and programs unique to the university. By exploring the major in particular rather than the school as a whole, you might discover universities others may have overlooked which fit you perfectly!   

  • Selective American universities look for ‘well-rounded’ applicants: students who don’t simply excel in a single subject but can demonstrate a wide range of interests and abilities. Thus, one way to narrow down major selection is to consider what you have done that ‘complements’ your intended area of study. 

For instance, if you are planning to major in Economics, consider how subjects like Sustainability Studies and Political Science link to your primary focus. Understanding interdisciplinary connections and persuasively explaining how your background connects these different fields is a great way to make your application stand out.

  • When choosing a major it’s also important to consider your long-term goals. Where do you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years? What type of career do you want to pursue? Certain programs (particularly in the STEM fields) have many pre-requisite courses and other requirements to qualify for graduate programs and future jobs. 

With many companies looking for graduate-level (Masters and PhD) qualifications, consider undergraduate majors as potential ‘stepping stones’ for graduate programs. For example, you might be surprised to learn that many Humanities majors (History, Literature, Philosophy…) go on to study Business and Law as graduate students.

Choosing a major can be challenging, but with careful consideration and research, you can make an informed choice. Remember to consider your interests, accomplishments, take classes and explore subjects ‘indirectly’ related to your intended major, and consider your long-term goals. Good luck!

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