College admissions expert and educational consultant Mark Montgomery speaks from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, USA about the American approach to majors: unlike many countries, getting accepted into a college usually has nothing to do with your choice of major, and you only make your final choice after being admitted.
So, when I’m working with some of my students from overseas, whether it’s from China or from the U.K. or Australia, one of the first things that the family and the student begins to think about in the process of deciding which university to choose in the United States, is the major. This academic specialty that the student will pursue. And I spend a lot of time explaining that, in the United States, we really do have a different approach or a different view of the importance of major and choosing the school.
So to give you an example, I’m here at the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. And we attended an information session and it was made very clear to us that while the University of Washington has 118 different majors – that’s a lot of different majors – the choice of major is not at all considered in the admissions review. So, as you put your application in, you may mark on there which major you prefer, but you are not being accepted to that major when you are accepted to the university. There are a few exceptions to that and technicalities where there are some direct admissions to particular majors, but those are very much the minority.
Generally speaking, here at UDub, the major is not considered in admissions. Then, you choose your major when you get to the university and you apply to the major when you’re here. Some of the majors are open to anyone, it doesn’t matter. Some of them may have a few requirements. And, as long as you meet those requirements, you’re automatically in. And then there are some majors though, like computer science, business, nursing, that you have to apply, there is a whole application process that you go through in the first or second year to be accepted to that major. So that happens here at UDub after you’ve already matriculated to the university. That’s when you decide what your major is. And, in the case of these very competitive majors, that’s when you’re accepted to your major.
So, again, for students who are coming from other countries who are looking at a place, whether it’s the University of Washington or the University of Virginia or even Harvard or Princeton or Yale, the major is something that is chosen once you arrive on the campus after you have already been admitted. Some schools do require that you have a choice of a major as you enter, but that’s really a minority. So the American view of this is quite a bit different from, say, the U.K. or China or Hong Kong. You choose your major after you’ve arrived.