It’s a legitimate question: do you need to know what you want to major in before applying to college? It’s a question many high school seniors have on their mind this time of year as college admission deadlines approach, especially if you’re a student applying to the most competitive Ivy League Colleges.
So, how strongly do you really need to know what you want to major in and/or possibly do for a living while you’re still just a senior in high school? After all, isn’t that what college is all about? To expose oneself to all kinds of different academic fields, intellectual interests and possibilities. What if you really don’t know what you might want to do for a living down the road, or even next week? In other words, what if you’re working on your college admission essays and applications, and you really have no idea what you might be interested in at all. You’re an excellent student, you have strong grades, strong test scores, great extracurriculars, your teachers love you, and you express yourself well in writing (via your college admission essays) so…is not knowing your potential major really going to be a problem?
My answer is this: yes. Colleges like to see some kind of direction, again especially when talking about the more competitive programs like the Ivy League. The strongest college applicants are those who know what they’re interested in and the path they want to pursue – think of someone who has known they wanted to be a doctor since they were five, a classical musician who has been practicing their whole life, or a high school student who has always been actively building things and working on the latest technology, knowing she has always wanted to be an engineer.
Everyone understands that interests change and people grow intellectually, especially young people when exposed to all the new ideas on experiences their first college year, but when talking about straight college admissions facts and advice, I will say that the stronger college applicants have both a passion that’s reflected in their academic pursuits and interests, and an intense drive that – even if it changes – at least points them in a very focused direction, so they can speak with conviction in their college applications and interviews and at least start make a case for what they *might* want to do even if it changes down the road.
It is always better to present yourself as someone who has focus and drive and confidence than someone who is all over the place and unsure of who they are and where they’re going, at least at this moment in time. You come across much stronger if you pick something and build your essays and interests around that idea. It really shows a level of confidence, and confidence is what college admissions officers like.
Once you have your major, make sure it fits with the rest of your application. Do your extracurriculars fit with your interest? Does your summer work experience? What about your achievements and awards? The strong college applications are those which present a strong and unified story.
Again, college admissions officers know that many students don’t know what they want to do, but even if you’re undecided, your strongest bet is to pick something even if you change you mind down the road.