Can I change my academic focus going into college/ What schools are good for the academically curious?

This is a sort of long post, but my general questions are: Am I able to major in something I never really explored in high school/ What colleges would be best for exploring a variety of interests?

For some background, I am a high school senior who has excelled in soft sciences/ humanities. I have always been interested in political science, economics, literature, and all that jazz. I recently realized that I have never let myself explore the hard sciences and that I might be even more interested in those disciplines than in the subjects I have dedicated my high school studies to. I love research and I am a very curious and creative person, and for some reason, I have never considered the fact that research in the hard sciences would still allow me to be creative and work with other people. I have worked as an editor for a high school research publication for two years, and I have always been given humanities-focused papers because that’s what I’m “strong” in, but the times I have edited chemistry/ biology papers I have been absolutely enthralled by the subjects.

My issue now is that I have taken very few STEM courses. I have never taken any calculus or physics classes, and the only hard sciences I have studied are honors biology freshman year and regular chemistry. I decided to take AP Environmental Science last year, and it was absolutely my favorite class I have ever taken, more so than AP Euro, APUSH, or any of the other humanities AP classes. I decided my schedule for senior year before realizing how much I loved that class, and now I have no real science/ math classes this year besides AP Psych and AP Statistics, which don’t really count. Will I be able to explore chemistry and biology in college without background courses like AP bio and AP chem?

My current list of schools includes mostly liberal arts colleges (Williams, Bowdoin, Washington and Lee, etc), and I am wondering if anyone knows what these schools are like in terms of academic exploration. I have heard great things, but if anyone has a personal story or can actually attest to how these schools support curiosity, that would be great. Also, if anyone has school suggestions please let me know!

Overall, do you think it’s possible for me to change my academic focus? I still love the social sciences, I just feel like the subjects in that field include things I can easily self-study without college, whereas with hard sciences, college-level courses seem very necessary. I also feel as though it would be easier to switch my career from hard sciences to social sciences, whereas social sciences to hard sciences would be extremely difficult after college.

Let me know your thoughts/ advice.

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My recommendation is to explore liberal arts colleges. They give you ample opportunity to explore subject areas because they do not admit by major and you don’t have to declare one until the end of your sophomore year. Some have a core curriculum, with classes every student takes, some do not and some have distribution requirements with areas of study and some offer a very open curriculum with no requirements other than what you need for your major.

My D had no idea what she wanted to study other than she had real issues with math. She attends a LAC with 2 required classes that everyone takes, 3 core areas where there is a list and you pick one from each, and 3 areas of inquiry where you take 2 classes from each section. So far, she has been able to take classes from a dozen different departments and she is only a sophomore.

The only issue I see is many of the top LACs are very competitive in terms of admissions and your transcript may not demonstrate the rigor they are looking for, with Pre-Calc and Physics as a minimum. If you look at some outside of the top 30, you may have a better chance.


You can major in anything you want - of course, some things will have pre-requisites.

I’ve read everywhere students in college change their major 80% of the time. Some is not by choice - i.e. many engineering, comp sci, and architecture majors change. But many is by choice.

It may take you longer to graduate, etc. as you explore. The LAC is an excellent choice as you can get to better know profs and get closer to the subjects. I imagine advising is better.

But no matter where you go, you can change your major. In fact, one of the most common majors if not the most uncommon is Undecided.

As you explore your current list and you go on their virtual info sessions, during the Q&A - ask. How easy is it to change your major.

The answer will be - easy - and as @helpingmom40 pointed out at many schools you go in without a major.

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Yes, you can take biology and chemistry classes in college without having taken their respective AP classes. I’ve never seen a college in the US that restricts an entire subject to those who have taken a particular AP class. Remember that not every high school offers AP classes to begin with.

I think you are on the right track. You ask whether LACs support curiousity - I would say that many of them go farther than that and almost compel curiousity via their general education requirements. The best of the LACs really want students to explore a wide variety of fields before deciding on a major, which usual happens only after the second year. That means providing STEM classes for humanities kids and vice versa, so there should definitely be math and science classes that are right for you even if you haven’t focused on those areas in high school. When you find schools that appeal to you, I suggest you study the general education requirements and class lists, as well as the major requirements for fields you think you might be interested in and see how things might play out. That will be good background for info sessions, etc.


Depending on how wide your universe of possible majors is, an LAC may be a fine choice. However, if it is really big, possibly including areas like engineering, health science, business, etc., a larger university may be a better choice. Sometimes it is better to start with a complete list and then start crossing out things that you know that you have no interest in. Then look at what is left and try to understand how important leaving a door open is to you.


What state do you live in? Many big universities don’t require you to apply into a major, but some do so good to check out how your state flagship works. I agree with Eeyore123 that a big university is going to give you the most breadth and depth. I love a good LAC, but a big flagship is going to offer you lots of opportunities for exploration. Those Gen Eds that most publics require will give you the opportunity/requirement to explore lots of different subject areas. Of course with that comes some really large class sizes and less opportunity to really get to know your professors. LACs will also let you explore a variety of subjects, but just by the nature of the beast they can’t offer the breadth that a big university can.


I have a daughter that attends Amherst College and another at Williams College. These schools both offered Open Curriculum which is why they applied. I would encourage you to explore schools that offer it. Some that do will be top schools with low admit rates, but there are many more that offer flexible curriculum that can be a great fit for you. Do the research, make a well balanced list of schools that you could be happy to explore at. I wish you the best!


Other open curriculum schools to look into would be Brown, URochester, and Hamilton.

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Yes. It is best to have at least high school level biology, chemistry, and physics as well as precalculus as basic background before starting the college courses for a science major.

Not having AP courses does not mean that you are behind. It just means that you are not ahead.

However, biology and chemistry courses may have pre-meds repeating their AP credit to compete for precious (for them) A grades.

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