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What Do You Want to Major In?

A Discussion of This Frequently Asked College Interview Question

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"What do you want to major in?"

The question can come in many forms: What academic subject most interests you? What do you plan to study? What are your academic goals? Why do you want to major in business?

Don't be misled by the question. A significant percentage of college applicants have no idea what major they will choose, and the majority of high school students who have chosen a major will actually change their mind before they graduate. Your interviewer knows this, and there is nothing wrong with being honest about your uncertainty.

That said, you don't want to sound like you have never considered the question. Colleges aren't eager to admit students who entirely lack direction or academic interests. So, if you are undecided about your major, think about the difference between these two responses:

  • I don't know what I want to major in. While this response may be honest, it's not helping your interviewer get to know what does interest you. You've shut down the question, and you haven't made a good case for being admitted to the college.
  • I haven't chosen a major yet, but I love working with people. I'm looking forward to taking courses in sociology, psychology, and political science to learn more. Sure, you haven't chosen a major yet, but your answer shows that you've thought about the options and, more importantly, that you're intellectually curious and looking forward to exploring the possibilities.
If you do have a strong sense of what you want to study, you'll still want to make sure your answer creates a positive impression. Think about the following responses:
  • I want to major in business because I want to make lots of money. You're telling the interviewer that material gain is your top priority. Are you actually interested in business? Students who choose a major based on its earning potential are less likely to succeed in college than those who have an actual interest in the subject matter that they are studying. I've seen a lot of business majors and engineers either change majors or drop out of college because they were, in truth, not interested in business or engineering.
  • My parents want me to become a doctor. Okay, but what do you want to do? Do you have thoughts of your own, or are you going to let your parents define your academic path?
  • I want to major in political science because I want to go to law school. Do you have sincere interest in political science? And why do you want to go to law school? You're going to spend four years of your life studying as an undergraduate, so you don't want to breeze over your response with a comment about graduate school. The interviewer isn't admitting you to graduate school.
Make sure you are ready to explain why you are interested in a particular field. What experiences or high school courses piqued your interest?

At some large universities it is possible that you will need to pick a field of study when you apply. For example, some of the California public universities are trying to balance enrollments within different programs. And if you are applying to a business or engineering school within a larger university, you will often need a specialized application for that school.

At most colleges, however, being undecided is fine. Here at Alfred University, for example, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recently changed the official designation for undecided students from "Undecided" to "Academic Exploration." Exploring is a good thing, and it's what the first year of college is for.

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