(Declaring a major versus undecided? This is a question that has no clear answer but does have some factors to consider. Is a student playing the odds of whether this can help in the application process or hurt.)
To start with, I want to say there are a few factors to consider as we begin this discussion.
- Are you applying to a liberal arts college?
- Does your major have some specific background or foundation needs?
- Is the university you are applying to have different admissions requirements for different colleges?
- If you change majors, can you transfer to another college at that same university?
- Are you interested in one of those rare majors that makes the admissions officers rejoice?
In most cases applications to liberal arts programs have no need to indicate the intended major. For schools that do request this information, it is often for determining the first advisor for the student upon arrival to help guide them in their initial course choices. Of course, it is imperative that the student complete thorough research to ensure the college has the areas of interest to the student. Usually students are looking for broader areas but if there is a very specific field of interest, this is a more important step. Even if the college does not request the major be declared until the end of the second year, it is essential that the student be able to use the first to years to lay the foundation for their final years in the correct subjects.
Some majors have special requirements. The first that comes to mind is engineering with the additional emphasis on mathematics and sciences prior to university. To a lesser extent majors based on languages may also require proof of proficiency. Of course fine arts colleges often have audition requirements for some of their majors especially the ones that are performance based. It is important that you know these requirements before you apply to prevent disappointment. If the university has different colleges then admissions to these various colleges may be the way that it is separated. For example the colleges at Vanderbilt all have different entrance requirements: Engineering, Blair College of Music, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and College of Arts & Sciences and each is evaluated according to its admissions requirements. Although while at Vanderbilt you can take courses across colleges, it is still an internal transfer process to change colleges. In other words, you cannot seek admission to the College of Arts and Sciences thinking it is easier than admissions to the College Of Engineering then it is a quick change once you are there. This is the same for many of the universities with very distinct admissions criteria for their individual colleges.
Occasionally there are majors that make the application receive a little extra interest. Classical Studies with the addition of Greek Language Studies at University of Chicago is an example of this. Many universities have that “special” subject that catches their admissions officers eye. No, it is not worth looking for that major to declare your interest in it, if you really aren’t!
All in all, the idea of the initial major is finding a college that has the subject that the student would like to study, either broad or very specific. Again the main thing is the importance of research to ensure the college has the specific subject or the array of subjects of interest.