When completing your college-specific supplements to the Common Application, one prompt you’ll frequently encounter is “Why do you want to study your chosen major?”
Known as the “why this major” prompt, it can take many different forms. Still, there are certain steps you should follow in crafting your response no matter what wording the question has.
Examples of Prompts
There are many colleges and universities that have some version of the “why this major?” prompt. Here are a few examples to give you a sense of the different wordings and versions you’ll encounter.
Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it. (250 words)
Please explain your interest in your first-choice major/undecided status and your second-choice major, should you opt to list one. (250 words)
Carnegie Mellon University
Most students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that's developed over time—what passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study. (300 words)
Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided. (100 words)
What should you aim to accomplish with your essay? You should:
- Describe how you developed your academic interest(s). How did you get to where you are now? What were your motivations?
- Tie your background to your current interests and pursuits.
- Explain how the school you attend will help you delve deeper into your academic interest and prepare you for the future.
- Explain how you will contribute to the institution’s community while enrolled and after graduating.
How to Write the “Why this Major” Essay1. Identify stories that illustrate how you developed an interest in the academic discipline.
Anecdotes are an important part of any essay you write for your college applications (and really any personal essay). They serve to draw your reader in, helping them get to know you through your experiences, and bring color to your narrative. In the case of the “why this major” essay, anecdotes allow you to create an arc. You’ll show the reader how you first became interested in a discipline and bring them to the present day, building your interest with stories that offer insight into your passion for the subject.
For example, if you’re an aspiring software engineer and plan on majoring in computer science in college, you might describe your first time using a computer and what that interaction was like. You should also offer a look into your experiences along the way — when you realized you could not only use a machine but change the way it communicates with you and others through coding.
Connect these stories to the why of your narrative — how did these individual experiences become integral to your story and lead you to where you are today? In other words, articulate that “aha” moment. There doesn’t have to be a singular experience that made you realize this was what you wanted to do with your life; instead, you can paint a picture of how these moments together lead you to this point. In the example above, for instance, you might tie your first experience with a computer to the first time you coded an app or program to courses you took along the way, all of which contributed to a passion for software development.
Finally, explain what it is about the school that will help you explore your academic passion. While this is a “why this major” essay and not a “why us” essay, you still need to weave in your excitement about this school in particular because every admissions committee wants a student who wants them and thinks that their institution is the way to achieve their goals. In order to do that, you might discuss how the program that interests you is particularly unique to that school, a faculty member you’d like to study with, a course that excites you, or something else you can’t find at another college.
What Not to Say
1. Don’t choose a major the school doesn’t offer.
This is a no-brainer: if the school doesn’t offer, say, journalism, don’t talk about how excited you are to pursue that major. Instead, you might discuss how their English program will prepare you for a career in journalism.2. Don’t regurgitate your resume.
While it’s fine to mention activities that are related to your chosen major, you should focus on how they helped shape your journey to get here rather than describing the activities themselves. This is what the activities section is for. Your essay should be the story behind them.3. Avoid mentioning superficial reasons.
For instance, don’t say you want to be a doctor because it’s a prestigious job or that you want a high-earning potential. Your reasons should go deeper than that.
What If You’re Undecided?
You don’t have to have a major chosen in order to write this essay. Most colleges accept students who are undecided, unless they’re applying to a specific school or program that requires you to declare your major before matriculating.
If you’re undecided, there are a couple of ways to approach this essay. It’s a good idea to use a mix of these strategies.
- Mention 2-3 of your top interests and correlating experiences, connecting them to one another if possible.
- Describe how you expect X school to help you hone your areas of interest further and why this is the best place to do it.
- Explain why you’re undecided.
- Delve into a few different courses that have inspired you and explain why.
And don't fret -- If you're stuck, our college admissions experts are ready to help with everything from perfecting your essays to preparing for college interviews.