Why This Major? How to Write a Winning Essay!

By: Barbara Leventhal | Last Updated: May 2, 2022

In a recent post, we stressed the importance of writing an effective Why OUR College? essay, offered a step-by-step guide, and included a worksheet for you to record your research. Today, we’d like to do the same for the common Why This Major? Essay that asks an applicant to thoughtfully examine the reasons for a major selection at that particular university. These essays seem relatively straightforward, but can be deceptively challenging – they often force students to truly consider why they chose business, economics, engineering, or history as their intended course of study for the next four years. Obviously, you cannot write, “My mom and dad told me to pick this major!” With careful consideration – and due diligence in the form of research, of course! – you can write an exemplary essay about your planned major, even learning a little more about yourself along the way.

girl answering college writing promptsAs with many other supplementary essays, the question about your major selection may be worded in a number of ways. Often, it’s simply stated:

Discuss your reasons for pursuing the academic program (major) selected above (UCF, 250 words), or With the understanding that some students will change colleges at Lehigh after the first year, please briefly describe why you chose to apply to the first-choice college or major that you listed above (200 words).

You’ll sometimes encounter a longer variation:

Please share a bit more about your academic interests. What do you hope to study at CU Boulder? What has inspired your interests in this area? Or, If you are undecided, what area(s) of study are you considering? Think about your prior/current coursework, extracurricular activities, work/volunteer experiences, future goals, or anything else that has shaped your interests (250 max).

You may even find the question embedded within a Why OUR College? prompt:

We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand - Why NYU? (400 word maximum, underlining is ours).

Regardless of the prompt’s length or wording, your response must clearly identify which field of study you’re considering and the reason(s) behind this decision. Here’s a good framework for your essay:

1. Begin with your story. What inspired you to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics? Creative writing? Aviation? As with most college essays, start with a personal anecdote that relates when you first fell in love with that subject or what it looks like when you’re engaged in a related extracurricular activity, or taking a class on that topic.

2. Transition to your vision of what it would look like pursuing this major at that particular school: what are some classes of interest? Who is teaching them? What are examples of related involvement outside of the classroom (research, internships, student organizations)? How do you plan to contribute to this rich academic life?

3. Conclude by reaffirming your enthusiasm and sincerity for studying major X at School Y.

What should you do if you are truly undecided when it comes to major choice? First, be assured that many students start college without a firm grasp on their area of study: many, in fact, change majors within the first two years of college. Before writing this variation of the Why This Major? essay, spend a little time pondering which subjects you’ve genuinely loved throughout high school and whether you’ve gravitated towards the sciences, humanities, or world language after having completed a class or two where the subject matter sparked your curiosity. Think about your outside talents and how you could incorporate them into your future collegiate studies. Use the essay to explain a broad interest in multiple areas or a burgeoning passion for one in particular. As long as your response is authentic and convincing, an initial exploratory pathway is nothing to fear and may indeed make for a well-crafted response.

Don’t forget – while you can use a similar framework for each response, make sure that the details you provide are unique to each school. Don’t write an excellent engineering essay for Lehigh and inadvertently send it to Boulder!

Finally, here’s something important to keep in mind: colleges will not “hold your feet to the fire.” That is, they won’t demand that you major in the field that you name in your application. Yes, you can apply as an English major and then decide during your first year at college that you’d rather major in math! However, certain major changes with a university may require an application, such as changing your major to business, engineering, computer science, or nursing, to name just a few. Regardless of the major you choose to write about, make sure that the rest of your application can justify it through your academic work or extracurricular commitments.

As with every other piece of writing you submit, this one should also demonstrate that you are thoughtful, objective, mature, and curious. Those, after all, are some of the qualities that every school looks for. Your response should convey these essential qualities.

Use our worksheet to record and organize your notes for each college asking this question. Need further guidance working on these or other college essays? Give us a call today!

 

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