In this increasingly competitive college admission market, many students are looking for ways to improve their chances of acceptance at highly ranked colleges. In some cases, they “buy” internships for $20,000 or more, sign up for big-name college summer programs, or pay top dollar to produce a professional video that highlights their talent. One of the most common ways that students try to game the system is through their choice of majors. Their thinking is that by choosing an uncommon major, they may have a better chance of admission. In most cases, this strategy is ineffective. This is due to the fact that colleges are aware that a large percentage of students, perhaps even a majority of students, will change their majors during their four-year stint. Harvard, for example, indicates that 60% of students change their major. Other estimates are a bit lower, but it is highly unlikely that a college will give greater weight to a candidate simply because he has selected a particular major or area of interest on his application when they know it is likely to change.
Alternatively, some students believe that choosing a popular major will help them because colleges can accommodate a larger number of students in a popular major or department. While there is some merit to this argument, it is like gambling in that you don’t know how many other students have applied for the same major in any particular year. Furthermore, choosing a major that is unsupported by the activities a student has undertaken during high school actually weakens his chance for admission. In other words, it is far more important to be able to support a choice of major through activities and other means than it is to simply choose a major because it is more or less popular at a particular school.
So, instead of trying to game the admissions process by indicating false choices for majors and areas of academic interest, students are far better off making themselves the strongest possible candidates for a major in which they have a legitimate, demonstrable, provable, and logical interest, desire, fascination, or passion. This can be done in a number of ways including choices of activities, strong recommendations from appropriate faculty members and coaches, strong essays, excellent interview skills, and an enviable résumé.
There are absolutely ways to improve the odds of admission at highly competitive colleges and universities. However, strategically choosing a major or area of interest based on a perceived advantage that may be gained will usually do little other than offer false hope. Of course, the best way to improve the odds of admission is to be the strongest possible candidate. That is something that cannot be accomplished overnight. Those of you who read my articles regularly know that I am a strong advocate for planning. College admission success begins as early as eighth or ninth grade and continues right up to the moment that the application is submitted. Nonetheless, rising 12th graders, or current 12th graders, can still improve their odds of admission in a number of ways. Above all, they should take the college admission process seriously and not treat it like just another assignment that has to get done like a history paper or research assignment. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. Solid and supportable evidence always rules the day in the highly competitive college admission arena. Students should make the best use of their non-school time. They should choose activities wisely and strategically, and be introspective and intelligent about how they will be perceived by college admission committees.
Neil Chyten is a VIP college counselor and founder of NC Global Education, Inc.
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