When do you choose your major?


I’m hoping to apply to Yale later this year for early action but do not know what major I want to do - can someone just explain, do I pick the major when I apply or do I pick it later on if I get in?

Many thanks

You can pick a major, and then pick another one. My son picked his at the end of his first year, and I think it will stick, but it need not. I guess you could keep changing as long as you meet the distributional requirements, but I think you should expect to have made up your mind by the end of sophomore year.

All students apply to Yale as Liberal Arts majors and pick a major during their sophomore year.

FWIW: the reason Yale, and other selective colleges, ask you about your “intended major” is to gauge your interests. However, as more than 60% of all college students change their major at least once during their 4 years of college, Yale Admissions – or any Admissions office really – cannot use what you write down as your “intended major” as a recruiting tool because the data doesn’t directly translate into what major a student will graduate with. I’m not sure if this was on your mind when you asked the question.

The one exception to that would seem to be students interested in STEM, as Yale has been recruiting students interested in STEM and inviting them to campus to see if the school would be a good fit: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2013/01/18/science-recruitment-goal-attained/

@gibby Hi, thanks for the reply. I am actually interested in Computer Science (not sure if this is STEM??) but I’ve read somewhere that your application should tell a sort of narrative to the admissions officer? My issue is that none of my ECs link to computer science so I’m thinking of just listing some generic liberal arts major as my intended major and then switching it to Computer Science at the first opportunity? Would you recommend this?

Many thanks

Yes it is

IMHO that advise is wrong-headed. Your narrative should tell WHO you are, and what TYPE of person you are, and not necessarily tie any of that to what you want to study.

FWIW: My son, who started out at Yale on the Computer Science track and then switched to psychology/statistics, wrote his essay about his baseball coach and all the things he learned from a man who didn’t go to college (my son was not a recruited athlete). His supplementary essay was all about all the inane information he’s learned from youtube, including playing guitar, driving a stick shift and beating me at pingpong.

My daughter, who graduated from Harvard with a film studies degree, wrote her common app essay about growing up in a non-religious family and always wondering what being religious was all about. Her supplementary essay was about being a flyer on the cheerleading team (she did not do cheerleading in college).

It doesn’t matter that your extracurricular activities don’t link to your intended major. What colleges are looking for from EC’s is a long term commitment – measured in years not months – to something.

The idea is that your commitment could be translatable to something else in your college years and beyond. Your commitment – some might use the word passion, but I think that word is overused and misunderstood – could be to hopscotch, chess, theater, a sport, debate, a job etc – it doesn’t have to relate to your intended major. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most students admitted to Yale don’t have EC’s that are related to their “intended major.” Read this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-hansen-shaevitz/extra-curricular-activities-college-admission_b_3040217.html

That is true for a student interested in CS, as well as bio, math, chemistry, history, english or anything else! So don’t worry about showing your interest in CS. Show Yale what you love to do outside of the classroom, otherwise if you try to tie in your EC’s to your intended major, you run the risk of coming off as a one-dimensional person. And that’s NOT what colleges are interested in.

@gibby Thank you so much - that is really all so helpful! If I may ask, what was it that made your son at Yale switch from Computer Science? Were there any issues with the classes/department? Or was it something else?

Many thanks

Entering Yale, my son was interested in the more creative aspects of computer science – website design, game design, motion capture, etc. Those elements are not taught by Yale’s Computer Science Department, but through Yale’s Fine Arts Department. By the time my son figured this out mid-way through sophomore year and tried to switch from CS to FA, his advisor told him it wouldn’t be possible unless he was prepared to graduate in more than 4 years, as he had not taken “Introduction to Fine Arts.” At Yale, you cannot switch into a major without having taken the intro course for it, and Yale would not let him take the intro course concurrently with other FA courses. So, as my son was bored with the material Yale’s CS Department was teaching (learning and writing code, compliers, etc), he switched to the only other major(s) he had taken an intro class for – psychology and statistics. But he continued to pursue his CS interests on the side. During his senior year, he did not pursue a job in psychology/statistics, but looked for a CS job and was recruited by all the usual suspects. Starting next month, he’'ll be working as a CS data analyst for a well known tech company that everyone would know – you probably have the app on your computer and phone. So, even though he did not major in CS at Yale . . . he was able to get hired on his own with a CS job.

@gibby Hi, thanks a lot for that. Just one more thing - did your son have much experience of Computer Science before he took it? I actually have no experience whatsoever, do you think this might be an issue? Or do you think they start from scratch in the lessons anyway so I’ll be fine?

Many thanks

In high school, my son took a required semester of computer science, then took AP Comp Sci. He also spent a summer at Georgetown taking a class in computer animation using Adobe Flash and HTML. So, he started Yale having a good foundation in Java, HTML, and Flash. That said, a few of my son’s friends took their first CS class at Yale. FWIW: If you don’t have any computer science experience, how do you know you will like it? You might want to pick up a book on Java and start teaching yourself to see if you actually enjoy CS.