Monday morning Q&A: Applying undecided

Emily asks:

How should students who are applying with an “Undecided” major answer the “Why this college?” essay prompts?

First, Emily, you should know that there’s nothing wrong with applying as an undecided major as long as you apply to colleges that offer it as an option. There are plenty of students who aren’t yet ready to choose a major when they apply, and plenty of colleges that are happy to give them a year or two to decide.

The choice of major is just one reason a student might pick a college. So first, consider the honest reasons the colleges that currently interest you are on your list. Why are you interested in those colleges? Why do you think you could be happy and successful there? You probably have reasons that have nothing to do with majors. In fact, you might be choosing these schools in part because they seem like the right places to explore and find the right major. Whatever those reasons are, share them!

Second, consider what you would like to learn more about. College is school, after all, and most admissions officers will appreciate a sense that you’ve at least considered the academic offerings even if you aren’t yet ready to commit to one. There must be some subjects that you already like, or that intrigue you enough that you’d like to take some classes to explore them in college. Do the schools you’ve selected offer those subjects in addition to the “Undecided” option? There’s a big difference between telling a college “I have no idea what I want to study” and “I’m not ready to commit to a major, but I’ve always really enjoyed my science classes and even wondered what it would be like to learn more about physics every day.” See the difference? The latter answer sounds like an academically engaged student. The former answer does not. I wrote a past post about this here.

And finally, remember that colleges ask every essay question—including the “Why this college?” prompt—to learn more about you. So don’t respond to this prompt with a long list of things that the admissions readers already know about where they work. Tie those programs, offerings, or attributes to you and explain why you think there’s a match. I wrote more about this recently here.

Thanks for your question, Emily!

I’ll answer another question next week. Here’s the form if you’d like to submit one for consideration.