How to Write the Why Major Essay

In addition to the Common App Personal Statement, many colleges ask for supplemental essays including the Why Major Essay. In short, this essay asks, “What do you want to major in, and why?” This article will discuss strategies and instructions for how to write the why major essay.

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The primary purpose of going to college (believe it or not) is to learn. In the college research and essay process, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of the college experience. Community, vibe, and social culture can find their way to the forefront of your application materials, but at the root of everything, students must make a compelling case for why they are both a good candidate for the school and their major of choice. 

There are several factors that contribute to a school’s assessment of whether a student is a good fit for the major they’ve chosen. These factors may include recommendations and extracurricular activities. However, many schools will outright ask the student, “what do you want to major in and why?” and require the student to write an essay answering just that. 

In this article, we will address how to write a compelling Why Major essay, but this can be challenging if you do not know what you want to major in yet. For further reading material to help you decide, check out our articles How to Choose the Right Major and How Do I Choose My Major and Will It Affect My Chance of Admissions? But once you’ve established your choice of major, read on to learn how to write the why major essay.

“What do you want to major in and why?”

Identifying the Why Major essay

Colleges are known to get creative with their phrasing of certain essay prompts. However, at the heart of most prompts, essays fall into certain archetypes. One such archetype is the Why Major essay. Other archetypes include the Why Us essay, which asks students, “Why do you want to go to our school and not a different school?” or the Extracurricular essay, which asks students to elaborate on an extracurricular experience. At first glance though, these archetypes can be tricky to identify. 

Here are some examples of creatively phrased Why Major essay prompts:

Please explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected. (Rice University – 150 words)

Okay, so Rice’s is pretty straightforward. 

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. (Brown University – 250 words)

Brown is very proud of its open curriculum, so naturally, they want to see how this feature factors into your greater academic pursuits. Don’t be fooled, this essay should still be anchored in your ultimate major ambitions!

Why do you want to study your chosen major specifically at Georgia Tech? (Georgia Tech – 300 words)

While some schools ask Why Us separately from their Why Major essays, some schools splice them together. Georgia Tech is one such school. For a prompt like this, you’ll have to get clever about how you answer both halves of the question, leaving plenty of space to work in all the important Why Major details.

The goal of the Why Major essay

With the Why Major essay, you are not only explaining your career ambitions or reasons for wanting to pursue a given path. You are also attempting to demonstrate your viability to the admissions committee. In other words, why you are qualified to major in a certain subject and how will you be a powerful contributor to the school?

Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between discussing a department’s unique features and touching on the greatest hits of your activity list. Remember: what can the school do for you, and what can you do for the school?

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What to include in the Why Major essay

The Why Major essay should answer several important questions. Let’s go through them one by one:

Name the major and the school

This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure that in the first part of the essay, you explicitly name the major you’re applying for and what school it is in. Use capital letters. For example: The Policy and Analysis major within Cornell’s College of Human Ecology… or The University of Michigan’s Community and Media major within the LSA…

Discuss how the major connects to your career goals

Ideally, you are going to college to gain knowledge that will help you to contribute to society. So, how will this major assist in that contribution? In other words, how will a major in political science help you with a career in politics? How will data science support your interest in a career in artificial intelligence? Name what your career goal is, even if it’s not entirely specific yet. Then, discuss how this particular major will be paramount to helping you reach that goal.

Name a course or two that you find interesting

Each major will have a published list of courses either in the course catalog or on the department’s website. Among these listings, try to look for upper-division courses that are particular to your career goals, rather than broad intro-level classes. Discuss why, specifically, they interest you, and if it’s possible, connect the course to an activity that you have been involved in. For example: I am particularly interested in The Claims of Fiction (ENGL 0150X S01) for its exploration of tropes of strangeness, contamination, and crisis in fiction, themes that are especially relevant to many of the issues that affect society today. While this course would be helpful in contextualizing my own dystopian fiction, it would also underpin the work I publish in my underground literary magazine, The Tain, which prides itself on dwelling in the strange.

Name a professor or two whose work inspires you

A department is as good as the professors it employs. Many professors will be celebrated academics in their own rights, whether through research, publications, or industry experience. At many schools, tenured professors are expected to engage in research, and students are expected to be their research assistants. With this in mind, which professor would you love to assist? Whose research speaks to you and your career interests? For example: Professor Sonia N. Das’s research in colonial linguistics is of deep interest to me; while I have dabbled in linguistics while studying for the Computational Linguistics Olympiad, the prospect of researching the impact of colonial migration on speech patterns reconciles my interest in both linguistics and diaspora anthropology.

Name some academic opportunities that excite you

As you explore your major, try to look beyond the classroom. What sorts of clubs or societies are related to your course of study? Are there any particular volunteer, internship, or work experiences offered through the department? What about facilities, are there any particular labs or workshops available to you? For example, a history department might have a unique relationship with a local museum, or a sociology department might have a contract with a local housing authority. These are compelling reasons to choose a major at a particular school.

How to write the Why Major essay

Why Major essays are variable in length, which will limit or open the number of details available to you. With this sort of variability in mind, it’s tricky to offer a template that will be applicable to every prompt, particularly if the prompt combines the Why Us and Why Major archetypes. That said, here is the flow of ideas that I have seen generate a lot of success:

Step one: Establish your interest in the academic discipline

It’s best to tell a brief anecdote related to the major if you have the space for it. How did you first become interested in the subject? When did you decide that you’d like to pursue a career in it? Remember to include as many details about your past experience as you can when you’re writing your essays. Each essay is an opportunity to expand on an activity from your Common App list. So if you’re applying for a chemistry major, use the introduction to discuss your summer internship. If you’re applying for a dance major, use the introduction to discuss a performance that you were involved in.

Step two: Transition into discussing the major

Mention the point at which you knew you’d major in this discipline. Then, using the specific language that we discussed above, say that the major within the department at the school is the perfect place for you to explore your curiosities and build your career.

Step three: Discuss the particular features of the major inside the classroom

As you are offering support for why a certain major fits your interests, it makes sense to mention those course titles and professors. Again, don’t be afraid to pepper in some experience from your resume. It’s important to strike the right balance between what a school can do for you (i.e. what they offer) and what you can do for a school (i.e. how your experience makes you a worthy candidate). Therefore, you’ll need to demonstrate the particular ways in which a major will build on your existing experience and success.

Step four: Discuss the particular features of the major outside the classroom

Learning happens outside the classroom too! Many departments offer educational opportunities that are unique to the local community, which are great details to support your interest in attending a particular school. Using the organizations or internships you researched in the earlier section, discuss how a major within x subject at y school will prepare you for your future career via extracurricular involvement as well. A quick note – try to keep these opportunities academic, as this is the why major essay. If you want to mention athletics, Greek life, or other opportunities, save it for the Why Us or Community essay.

Step five: Conclude shortly and sweetly

It will forever be my advice to not waste your word count on a conclusion. Use a sentence or two to connect to the thesis and harken back to the original point or reason you raised in the introduction.

The bottom line on the Why Major essay

A compelling Why Major essay is a crucial element of a school’s decision-making process, so make sure to take it seriously. While you’re focusing on the content that we mentioned here, don’t forego the stylistic and structural necessities: perfect spelling and grammar, paragraph breaks in the appropriate spots, and an earnest narrative voice. 

Happy writing!

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