Being able to apply as an undecided major is a unique feature of US colleges and universities; it is also something a lot of students want to choose. Applying as undecided takes away the stress to have to immediately choose a program of study. One thing to point out, though, is that applying as undecided should be a choice, and not a shortcut to making applications easier. It should not be treated as the default option when a student does not have a clear idea of what to apply for. Many students think of applying undecided as a shortcut, but in reality, this can oftentimes make things more complicated and difficult.
As consultants, we advise students to only apply as an undecided major if you are undecided in which one of your interests you wish to pursue, not when you are still figuring out what that interest is. A former student was struggling to choose between his love for philosophy, English literature, and art. He applied as undecided in the end because he was not willing to compromise one thing for another. In the case of this student, applying as undecided was the right choice for him. He was admitted into his Early Decision school and is currently enjoying his explorations into each of these disciplines. By contrast, there are also students that don’t seem to be interested in anything in particular! If you are one of the latter kinds of student, I encourage you to do some reading or take part in a few online courses to locate a direction for yourself. This will be beneficial to you not only in your application process, but also in university as well.
Without a declared focus of study, one of the main tools universities use to assess an applicant’s compatibility with the school is through their supplemental essays. The purpose of the common “why” essay is so the school can get a sense of what the student wants to pursue, and whether the student is a good fit for that school. For a student who applies to a certain major, they can easily find specific aspects of the program to write about in this essay. Students who apply as undecided, however, will have to research everything a school has to offer in order to answer this prompt effectively. Even so, many students find it difficult to give specific reasons as to why they want to pursue something at that school in particular.
Another major faux pas many undecided students make in their “why” essay is they mistake “undecided” only as major exploration. The reality is that most US universities will have some form of general educational requirements that allow students to explore different kinds of courses and disciplines. Since all students, including those who did choose a major, will have to complete general educational requirements and by extension, also foray into other disciplines, applying as undecided for this reason does not make you a more compelling applicant!
So what do admission officers think about undecided majors? Looking from an admissions perspective, a potential problem with students applying as an undecided major for schools is the issue of disparity. When students apply as a specified major, schools can easily categorize students into departments and faculties, meaning they have a good sense of how many students are studying what. So when students apply as undecided, you don’t fall into any neat category, and how that affects schools is that now they don’t know where you will end up, leading to difficulty in determining whether each faculty has the right number of students. Long story short, schools need to develop the student body as a whole – you may stand to be disadvantaged during the admissions process if you do not fit into any of these boxes. At the same time, because of the lack of a “focus” in your application, an undecided major application can sometimes be unconvincing. The school’s understanding of you and who you are is limited to what they can see in your application. When a student applies as an undecided major, they tend to focus more on breadth rather than depth, which makes it more difficult for schools to assess your candidacy.
Before deciding whether or not to apply as an undecided major, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you more of a generalist or a specialist?
- Do you have multiple interests that you love?
- Do you have a clear plan for how you want to explore those options in college?
If you answered “Yes” to all 3 of the above questions, applying as undecided might be the right choice for you. If you answered “No” to any of the questions, there might be a major and program out there for you that we may be able to guide you towards. Behind choosing what major to apply for, whether that be undecided or otherwise, lies a series of important considerations. Having the proper guidance and knowing what your options are is crucial to your success.
Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Contact us for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward. Read our reviews to see what our clients think of us.
By Sabrina Ma, Admissions Consultant