Should Students Declare a Major on College Applications?

From our ongoing 'College Transitions' series


Published:

Duke University, Old Chemistry Academic Building

Photo courtesy of Bryan Pollard/Shutterstock.com.

The act of formulating a clear and decisive plan is as valorized in the college admissions process as it is in most other realms of American life. Highly selective colleges do generally give an edge to students who profess to have figured out their whole professional life by the tender of age of 18 — and possess a track record of activities and achievements consistent with those stated plans. Hence, applicants often feel pressured to list an intended major on their application even if, internally, the compass guiding their future path is spinning like a pinwheel in a windstorm.

To begin tackling this issue, we’ll explore whether or not applicants are locked into the major they list on their college applications.

 

Is Your Student Allowed to Change Majors After Being Accepted?

Let’s go right to the source on this one and hear from a few uber-elite institutions that know their applicants are having night terrors and heart palpitations about this very subject. 

MIT states: “Students apply to MIT for general admission and select a major at the end of the first year with the help of their first year advisor.” They do ask applicants to list a “course of interest” but explain that this has no bearing on admissions decisions, acknowledging that “a large percentage of students at MIT end up majoring in something other than what they listed as their field of interest as applicants.”

Similarly, Princeton University does not bind students in any way to the intended concentration they declare on their application. In fact, the university freely shares that 70% of Tiger graduates earn their degree in an area different from what they listed four years prior on their application. While many schools, even the most academically demanding in the country (like MIT and Princeton University), aren’t expecting your student to chart his or her academic course prior to even setting foot in a college classroom, other institutions will require your student to select a particular undergraduate school on his or her application — and that’s where things get murkier and more strategic.

 

Universities That Require Students to Apply to a Specific School

At a liberal arts college, moving between departments is typically quite easy. At a larger university that houses a number of schools/colleges — particularly ones with highly variable admissions standards — this may be quite challenging. Large flagships like the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Michigan or the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as large private research institutions like Cornell University, Boston University or Washington University in St. Louis, require you to apply directly to certain schools or colleges. 

For example, Dyson (Cornell University), Questrom (Boston University) and Olin (Washington University) business schools are all “direct admit” institutions, meaning that students apply specifically for entrance into that school. The three state universities referenced above all require you to apply directly to their colleges of engineering.

Fortunately, even at these highly-selective universities, switching majors within your given college is unlikely to cause trouble. A student at the University of Pennsylvania’s vaunted Wharton School of Business can freely change their area of concentration from accounting to behavioral economics. On the other hand, switching from the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences into Wharton School of Business involves another harrowing admissions process after one’s freshman year.

Here are the policies in place at some of the universities in North Carolina and nearby states.

North Carolina State University: Students wishing to study engineering or life sciences must declare those majors on their application. Everyone else enjoys greater mobility between areas of concentration. 

UNC-Chapel Hill: This university has a number of more selective majors, such as those within the prestigious Kenan-Flager Business School. There is an option to enter as a business major through an “Assured Admission” program. Anyone declaring a business major thereafter must apply post-freshman year. 

Duke University: All applicants must apply to Trinity College of Arts & Sciences or the Pratt School of Engineering. Changing majors within those schools is fairly easy. 

Virginia Tech: Majors that are “restricted” include all programs in engineering, many business programs, architecture, studio art and human nutrition. Restricted majors are those that require an additional application process in order to move into that program (even for those students who are already admitted into the general university).

Clemson University: Business and engineering students must spend their freshman year on pre-business and general engineering tracks. 

The University of Virginia: Undergraduates are admitted to a particular school at UVA and can change/declare majors once admitted to that specific college. 

University of South Carolina: Movement between colleges is fairly easy at this institution. For example, current students seeking to transfer to the College of Engineering and Computing only need a 2.5 GPA and “C” grade in one calculus course. 

 

Quick Recap

In short, most students need not fret about what major they list on their college application. If they choose to list an intended area of study, they should do so in an area that makes sense, given the other particulars of their application (i.e. extracurricular activities, course selection, honors and distinctions, etc.). Generally, they will be able to easily change their major at a liberal arts college, but are likely to encounter more difficulty transferring into a highly-competitive school at a larger university.

 

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.

 

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More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets Dave Ramsey" class that has teens experience...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

Short class advertising for local class   I am a mom and retired CPA who is passionate about teaching teens about the high cost of their choices. I teach a fun, interactive "Game of Life meets...

Cost: $225

Where:
Hope Community Church- Apex
2080 E Williams Street
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Beyond Personal Finance
Contact Name: Charla McKinley
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge + Growga are excited to offer outdoor yoga classes this spring!   The Little Sprouts Growga program is for ages 2-5. They learn basic mindfulness elements...

Cost: $150

Where:
The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
2902 Mt. Willing Road
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Sponsor: The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Erica Romkema
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

More information

The park comes alive after dark! Let the moon guide your way as we stroll around the pond in search of these night-time critters. Play fun games and try to catch some nocturnal bugs! Don't forget a...

Cost: FREE. Registration required for everyone; children must have adult accompaniment

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
View map »


Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

  Meet at the Waterwise Garden (first parking lot on right) Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on week of camp

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Enjoy a wonderful springtime Brunch with the Bunny and photo op on Saturday, April 4, 2020 at Patterson Farm Market & Tours. Our Brunch with the Bunny is always a popular event! Tickets must be...

Cost: Ages 2 – 6: $10.00 includes tax Ages 6 – 12: $12.00 includes tax Ages: 13 – 54

Where:
Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
10390 Caldwell Road
Mount Ulla, NC  28125
View map »


Sponsor: Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
Telephone: 704-636-4005
Contact Name: Megan Hedrick
Website »

More information

Opportunities to explore all 4 levels of the mill don’t happen often! Learn the history of milling in North Carolina, test your mill trivia, and discover what interesting machinery is preserved...

Cost: $10/Adult; $8/Senior (ages 60+); $6/Child (ages 10-16);Registration is required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Beavers are such busy creatures and have many unique features that allow them to survive in their aquatic world. Learn about their special adaptations through our "Build a Beaver" program then walk...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Join us for an egg-cellent time on the farm Saturday, April 4 & 11,  2020 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Explore the farm while you hunt for eggs and enjoy spring farm fun activities. Search for 12...

Cost: $10.00 for Hunters $7.00 for Non-Egg Hunters $6.00 for Non-Egg Hunters Senior (A

Where:
Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
10390 Caldwell Road
Mount Ulla, NC  28125
View map »


Sponsor: Patterson Farm Inc. Market and Tours
Telephone: 704-636-4005
Contact Name: Megan Hedrick
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

The Town of Holly Spring's annual spring event, Spring Fling, is taking on a new location that has a nice ring to it. This year’s Spring Fling at Ting! will take place on Saturday, April 4 from...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Ting Park Baseball Stadium
1151 N. Main St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Town of Holly Springs
Contact Name: Rachel Downey

More information

Many wildflowers bloom in spring.  Join us for a leisurely hike through our fields and woods as we learn to recognize some blooming beauties and appreciate their stories. Age: 5yrs. and up;...

Cost: $2

Where:
Annie Louis Wilkerson. MD Nature Preserve Park
5229 Awls Haven Dr
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Bryan England
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (60+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Bring the whole family for this fun interactive Growga family class. Siblings and parents come together for a fun Growga hour, combining elements of our Little Sprouts and Growga Kids programs...

Cost: $150

Where:
The Community Farm at Chestnut Ridge
2902 Mt. Willing Road
Efland, NC  27243
View map »


Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp & Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Erica Romkema
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Young children and their families are invited to participate in an interactive program with books, songs, movement, and other early literacy-based activities, carefully selected to engage an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village Regional Library
1930 Clark Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries

More information

Garner Sports League Opening Day Ceremony will be held at South Garner Park at 9am on Saturday April 4, 2020.  Come join us as we kick off the Spring season for recreational baseball, fast-pitch...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
South Garner Park
1210 Poole Drive
Garner, NC  27529
View map »

More information

Topper the Bunny can’t wait to see you at the 5th Annual Egg-ceptional Egg Hunt at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC, features age-appropriate egg hunts with a grand finale airplane egg drop at 3pm...

Cost: 10

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
Website »

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