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Does your choice of major affect your likelihood of acceptance at a college?


EKT
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That is, does interest in a less common major make acceptance more likely? At a huge state school, for instance, does a student have a better chance of admission if they are pursuing, say, a fine art major rather than something more common, such as a business or engineering major? Or, are all students assessed on the same criteria for admission, no matter what they intend to study? 

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Yes it depends. Some schools have  restricted programs where you have to be admitted into the major from the get go and some allow students to change majors. The major restrictive schools can be more difficult because they can sometimes tell when students are declaring a different major. Their extracurriculars and such may not show any interest in h the r major they are declaring. 

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It depends on the school. Some universities admit regardless of major, others only have X amount of spots for each major and admit to that school (so, the college of engineering at X university), or by major. Engineering, Computer Science and Medicine tend to be among the most competitive majors. For some schools the declared major does make it easier or more difficult to be accepted. 

IIRC, most (but not all) schools DS applied to in the US accepted regardless of major. Both overseas universities accepted him to the specific college within the university. 

 

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Dd applied to dance programs and generally had to apply to both the college for a general acceptance and to the dance department for a major-specific acceptance (which was much more selective than the college itself in pretty much every case). Art, music, theatre, and other majors where you have to audition or submit a portfolio of work likely have a similar process. 

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I agree with the other posters in that it depends on the school.

My son’s university accepts applications by college, and the requirements do vary quite a bit.

You are very wise to be thinking about these questions now, while your students are young!  Knowledge is power in the college application season!

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The number of applicants to a major compared to the number of seats a specific college has has would likely affect things. After all, it's easier to get admitted to a major which has space for 90% of the people who apply, than for one which can only make room for, say, 60% - even if in both cases it is the same subject.

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On 2/2/2021 at 1:59 PM, EKT said:

That is, does interest in a less common major make acceptance more likely? At a huge state school, for instance, does a student have a better chance of admission if they are pursuing, say, a fine art major rather than something more common, such as a business or engineering major? Or, are all students assessed on the same criteria for admission, no matter what they intend to study? 

Some schools consider major, some do not. Be aware that schools that limit acceptances for (as an example) Computer Science, typically also make it harder to change majors into the Computer Science department later on.

If an application asks about intended major, clarify with the admissions office how that information is used. Is it just for a "general well-rounded class" aspect, or will they hold the student to it? If the student changes their mind, how hard is it to change major?

Also, just picking a "weird" major isn't enough to get an admissions boost. The kid with lots of technology-related extracurriculars and strong grades in math naturally has a stronger application applying as an engineering major than as an International Relations major - the story the transcripts, activities, letters, and application form should tell a story that makes sense.

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Totally depends on the school.

Some my DD1 applied to would give an acceptance based on your major preference. If you changed your preference before enrollment, they would reevaluate your application. She started out with one major, but changed it to a very competitive (and relatively small) program - so they reevaluated and re-accepted her. lol

Apparently, there, if you change your major at any point post-enrollment, if it's a competitive department, you have to be accepted to the department before you can make the switch (so if your grades are having issues with Major #1, it would kill your chances at moving to Major #2 if it was a competitive program!).

 

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7 hours ago, JanetC said:

Some schools consider major, some do not. Be aware that schools that limit acceptances for (as an example) Computer Science, typically also make it harder to change majors into the Computer Science department later on.

If an application asks about intended major, clarify with the admissions office how that information is used. Is it just for a "general well-rounded class" aspect, or will they hold the student to it? If the student changes their mind, how hard is it to change major?

Also, just picking a "weird" major isn't enough to get an admissions boost. The kid with lots of technology-related extracurriculars and strong grades in math naturally has a stronger application applying as an engineering major than as an International Relations major - the story the transcripts, activities, letters, and application form should tell a story that makes sense.

These are great points, thank you! (And to clarify...I definitely have no interest in trying to "game" the system by attempting some sort of major bait-and-switch where I tell my daughter to apply to a school as a basket-weaving major, with plans to just switch on over to engineering once she's in! lol. Mostly, I'm reading a ton about college in general right now and am genuinely curious about how colleges go about building their freshman classes; are they trying to collect x number of students in each prospective major? Or, are they seeking a certain caliber/profile of student first and foremost, regardless of what each student intends to study? Surely it's a combination of both, but I guess I am curious to learn that--all other things being equal--could intended major be a factor in an acceptance for one student over another? Could the fact that my daughter will likely be a fine arts major ultimately work out to be a slight advantage at a school like the state flagship?) 

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53 minutes ago, EKT said:

These are great points, thank you! (And to clarify...I definitely have no interest in trying to "game" the system by attempting some sort of major bait-and-switch where I tell my daughter to apply to a school as a basket-weaving major, with plans to just switch on over to engineering once she's in! lol. Mostly, I'm reading a ton about college in general right now and am genuinely curious about how colleges go about building their freshman classes; are they trying to collect x number of students in each prospective major? Or, are they seeking a certain caliber/profile of student first and foremost, regardless of what each student intends to study? Surely it's a combination of both, but I guess I am curious to learn that--all other things being equal--could intended major be a factor in an acceptance for one student over another? Could the fact that my daughter will likely be a fine arts major ultimately work out to be a slight advantage at a school like the state flagship?

Keep in mind that no one really knows the answers. Admissions, at least to competitive schools, is a total crapshoot in this country. Unlike most European schools that generally go by a points system (if you meet the requirements, you are likely to be admitted), US schools have a thousand moving parts. Grades, ECs, the essays, test scores (maybe), level of courses taken, possibly major but not necessarily, class rank, portfolios, gender (in the case of engineering schools), interviews...the factors just go and on and there’s no way for a student to ultimately know what led to an acceptance or rejection. It’s maddeningly frustrating and IMO unfair to the students who are treated like pawns in the game.

I definitely wouldn’t *assume* intended major plays a significant role. You can glean specific info on her intended colleges on college confidential and asking questions on A2C or the schools reddit site; some schools for example might have a 20% admissions rate but 5% for a certain degree and that can be useful to know in advance (for admittance and post graduate prestige/ name recognition).

I'm also going to throw out there that she shouldn’t set her expectations on one school. In our experience this year, sending 12-15-20 applications seems to be standard (we are in New England which might be a factor) and acceptances are all over the place. DS was accepted a school with <5% acceptance rate but not to one with ~20%. Brilliant, tippy top of the class friends were deferred from schools where they should easily be ideal candidates. There is never an explanation why. 
 

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14 minutes ago, MEmama said:

Keep in mind that no one really knows the answers. Admissions, at least to competitive schools, is a total crapshoot in this country. Unlike most European schools that generally go by a points system (if you meet the requirements, you are likely to be admitted), US schools have a thousand moving parts. Grades, ECs, the essays, test scores (maybe), level of courses taken, possibly major but not necessarily, class rank, portfolios, gender (in the case of engineering schools), interviews...the factors just go and on and there’s no way for a student to ultimately know what led to an acceptance or rejection. It’s maddeningly frustrating and IMO unfair to the students who are treated like pawns in the game.

I definitely wouldn’t *assume* intended major plays a significant role. You can glean specific info on her intended colleges on college confidential and asking questions on A2C or the schools reddit site; some schools for example might have a 20% admissions rate but 5% for a certain degree and that can be useful to know in advance (for admittance and post graduate prestige/ name recognition).

I'm also going to throw out there that she shouldn’t set her expectations on one school. In our experience this year, sending 12-15-20 applications seems to be standard (we are in New England which might be a factor) and acceptances are all over the place. DS was accepted a school with <5% acceptance rate but not to one with ~20%. Brilliant, tippy top of the class friends were deferred from schools where they should easily be ideal candidates. There is never an explanation why. 
 

Thank you for taking the time to type all this out. I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this board so much! It is all very eye-opening, and consistent with things I've been reading elsewhere. But yes, it IS maddening! Part of me wants to just opt out of it all and send DD to a CC then transfer to a 4-year. But then the more I read, the more I learn that most scholarship opportunities are for first-year freshmen (not transfers), so in theory, with merit aid, a student could pay less for a degree at a small liberal arts college than at the stage flagship! I think what we'll probably do, when the times comes, is to try our hand at traditional first-year admissions at 4-year institutions and see what shakes out. If the acceptances (or the money) are no good, we could then opt for the CC/transfer to a 4-year path. But yes, it definitely all feels like a game you're forced to play without even really knowing the rules. 

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2 hours ago, EKT said:

Thank you for taking the time to type all this out. I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this board so much! It is all very eye-opening, and consistent with things I've been reading elsewhere. But yes, it IS maddening! Part of me wants to just opt out of it all and send DD to a CC then transfer to a 4-year. But then the more I read, the more I learn that most scholarship opportunities are for first-year freshmen (not transfers), so in theory, with merit aid, a student could pay less for a degree at a small liberal arts college than at the stage flagship! I think what we'll probably do, when the times comes, is to try our hand at traditional first-year admissions at 4-year institutions and see what shakes out. If the acceptances (or the money) are no good, we could then opt for the CC/transfer to a 4-year path. But yes, it definitely all feels like a game you're forced to play without even really knowing the rules. 

Yes, absolutely don’t rule out private colleges because of cost concerns. Every school has an estimated net price calculator on their site (I think that’s what it’s called) which tend to give a fairly accurate-ish estimates of the price you’ll actually pay based on income, assets etc vs. the sticker price. Very often private colleges offer far more in aid than state schools (and out of state state schools tend to offer very little). 
 

As for the bolded, I totally agree. And it’s completely at the students expense (money, stress, time, research, game playing). I was surprised by how much we as parents had to be involved in the process as well. We are fortunate that we started touring schools before his junior year (highly recommended even in non COVID times), although the uni he is probably going to decide to attend will be sight unseen. You are smart to start figuring out the details now! 

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While I have no way to back up my opinion, I would assume intended major matters. Colleges want to fill their classrooms, so if a school has a classics department (as an example), I would assume they want to see at least some students chose that as an option, no?

 

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Yeah, even at smaller LAC's where they're not admitting students to a specific major, but to a general program, intended major is part of them building their class. If they have a program they're trying to build or that's underenrolled, that affects how they see an applicant who wants to study that.

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9 hours ago, EKT said:

These are great points, thank you! (And to clarify...I definitely have no interest in trying to "game" the system by attempting some sort of major bait-and-switch where I tell my daughter to apply to a school as a basket-weaving major, with plans to just switch on over to engineering once she's in! lol. Mostly, I'm reading a ton about college in general right now and am genuinely curious about how colleges go about building their freshman classes; are they trying to collect x number of students in each prospective major? Or, are they seeking a certain caliber/profile of student first and foremost, regardless of what each student intends to study? Surely it's a combination of both, but I guess I am curious to learn that--all other things being equal--could intended major be a factor in an acceptance for one student over another? Could the fact that my daughter will likely be a fine arts major ultimately work out to be a slight advantage at a school like the state flagship?) 

Have you read Jeff Selingo's new book Who Gets In and Why? It has good insights, because he was able to embed in three admissions offices during their application review season.

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8 hours ago, MEmama said:

DS was accepted a school with <5% acceptance rate but not to one with ~20%. Brilliant, tippy top of the class friends were deferred from schools where they should easily be ideal candidates. There is never an explanation why. 
 

What is hard to keep in mind as an applicant is how many wonderfully qualified students are out there. And each college is making its own decisions for its incoming class. 

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1 hour ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

Have you read Jeff Selingo's new book Who Gets In and Why? It has good insights, because he was able to embed in three admissions offices during their application review season.

I have not read it! Thank you for the recommendation; I will definitely add it to my reading list!!

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On 2/5/2021 at 4:30 AM, EKT said:

Could the fact that my daughter will likely be a fine arts major ultimately work out to be a slight advantage at a school like the state flagship?) 

Fine arts can be competitive in state universities - Art schools and conservatories are expensive and generally have poor financial aid, so there are often lots of applications for the affordable spots in state schools, particularly those universities with BFA options in the arts.

Fine arts in general is the hardest to predict admissions for -- the portfolio or audition aspect makes it tricky.

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On 2/5/2021 at 10:03 AM, MEmama said:

Yes, absolutely don’t rule out private colleges because of cost concerns. Every school has an estimated net price calculator on their site (I think that’s what it’s called) which tend to give a fairly accurate-ish estimates of the price you’ll actually pay based on income, assets etc vs. the sticker price. Very often private colleges offer far more in aid than state schools (and out of state state schools tend to offer very little). 

The price difference after financial aid between private and public and even out of state public schools depends a lot on where you live and the schools being applied to. For my students, the in state public schools in no way could be match by the private schools unless DC got a full ride. Depending on many varying factors depending on the school, it is possible to get in state tuition for an out of state school. 

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1 hour ago, Arch at Home said:

The price difference after financial aid between private and public and even out of state public schools depends a lot on where you live and the schools being applied to. For my students, the in state public schools in no way could be match by the private schools unless DC got a full ride. Depending on many varying factors depending on the school, it is possible to get in state tuition for an out of state school. 

This is where it is important to understand how NPC work and individual schools' financial aid processes compared to your family's financial picture.  The above is false for our family. Schools that meet need add back in retirement contributions, some (not all) factor in home equity, change familial contribution based on number of children attending college (so what might be affordable 1 yr can become completely unaffordable with only 1 in college), etc.

For our family, public Us with scholarships have been our cheapest option. Even without scholarships, the cost of in-state would be on par with financial aid offers.

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1 hour ago, 8filltheheart said:

This is where it is important to understand how NPC work and individual schools' financial aid processes compared to your family's financial picture.  The above is false for our family. Schools that meet need add back in retirement contributions, some (not all) factor in home equity, change familial contribution based on number of children attending college (so what might be affordable 1 yr can become completely unaffordable with only 1 in college), etc.

For our family, public Us with scholarships have been our cheapest option. Even without scholarships, the cost of in-state would be on par with financial aid offers.

This was true for us too.  My most competitive dd (34 ACT, CompSci/Math major female) did get in everywhere she applied, and got nice scholarship offers everywhere (okay, except the state Flagship) - but even with those stats, only one school offered her enough that the Net Price even came close to full sticker price at the Flagship (but was still a bit higher).  And that was with twins in college at the same time (and a third hot on their heels).  She ended up picking another State U with a strong Coop program where she also got a scholarship.

This is where location also comes in - we're in New England, and she didn't want to be more than 6 hrs from home (driving distance), so no Midwestern or Southern schools where they seem to give more scholarship $, esp. for high test scores and for 'geographic diversity'.

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3 hours ago, Arch at Home said:

The price difference after financial aid between private and public and even out of state public schools depends a lot on where you live and the schools being applied to. For my students, the in state public schools in no way could be match by the private schools unless DC got a full ride. Depending on many varying factors depending on the school, it is possible to get in state tuition for an out of state school. 

Absolutely! That’s why I suggested not ruling private schools out without doing some research first. Many people do unfortunately make that mistake.

DS, incidentally, will be studying overseas. With the merit aid he was awarded it’s actually less expensive than our state flagship.

 

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2 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

This is where it is important to understand how NPC work and individual schools' financial aid processes compared to your family's financial picture.  The above is false for our family. Schools that meet need add back in retirement contributions, some (not all) factor in home equity, change familial contribution based on number of children attending college (so what might be affordable 1 yr can become completely unaffordable with only 1 in college), etc.

For our family, public Us with scholarships have been our cheapest option. Even without scholarships, the cost of in-state would be on par with financial aid offers.

The error I see frequently is taking the fact that in state public colleges are often lower cost than private colleges and then extrapolating that "public colleges are cheaper than private colleges" without accounting for higher prices for out of state students.

The people who have this misunderstanding may not understand that large numbers of private colleges offer tuition discounts as a way of bringing students in the door or that up and coming out of state public colleges may have automatic merit aid, BUT that colleges that have far more applicants than seats (both public and private) do not need to offer tuition discounts to increase or maintain their yield rates.

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4 hours ago, Arch at Home said:

The price difference after financial aid between private and public and even out of state public schools depends a lot on where you live and the schools being applied to

I think other posters mean that adding, "your family's financial situation and the particular student" to @Arch at Home's quote above is necessary.

Or, "your mileage may vary."

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