A Major Decision

Whether at a college fair, high school visit, or in our admission center, we in the Office of Admission often get the following question from students—does it matter which major I choose when I apply?  Sometimes what students are really asking is whether we have any impacted majors (the answer to that question is no).  But in some ways, it does matter which major you apply to, so let’s take a look at how major selection works in the USC admission process.

No matter what academic department you’re applying to, you will only fill out one application for USC, which includes the Common App and the USC Common App supplement (as well as the SlideRoom component if you need to submit a portfolio or audition video).  Even though you are only submitting one application, you can select both a first and a second choice major.  Students use these two slots in a variety of different ways:

  • Some students are only interested in one major, so they do not list a second choice.
  • Some students have a first choice, but if that doesn’t work out, they want to be considered for a second choice.
  • Some students want to double major or take on a minor, so they list both fields.

As we review an application, we are looking to see if the student would be a good match for USC, and their intended program of study is one of the places where fit becomes evident.  We consider students primarily for their first choice major, but if we don’t see a good match there, we consider them for their second choice major.  How do we know if a major is a good fit?  Great question!

  • We will see that a student has prepared him or herself for that field through relevant coursework.  We know that different students will have different opportunities (e.g., some schools offer AP courses, others only honors, others have no advanced courses, etc.), and we take context into mind when we review your applications.  There are many fields of study that students won’t have had the opportunity to get acquainted with quite yet (it’s pretty rare to come across a high school student who has taken a gerontology course), but we like to get a sense of how your academic background reflects your passion and preparation for your intended field of study.  Keep in mind, however, that this is a qualitative process, so simply having strong grades and rigorous coursework does not in itself indicate a perfect fit/guarantee admission.
  • We will see that a student has explored their interests outside of the classroom.  The same nuances of context also apply here.  Every student who wants to be a business major doesn’t need to join Future Business Leaders of America, but clubs and other extracurricular activities can help prepare you by giving you a better sense of what you might be studying.
  • The faculty admission committee will let us know.  If a student is interested in a talent based major (anything where you have to submit a portfolio or an audition video), their application will be reviewed by the faculty of that department.  The experts then let us know whether they think that applicant is a good match for their program.

Part of creating a class is bringing together students from different academic backgrounds—USC wouldn’t be USC if we didn’t have a good mix of chemists and filmmakers and occupational therapists and architects, so we have to make sure that we balance our offers of admission to reflect our academic diversity.  Being accepted into USC with a particular major is not a binding contract.  We know that a good number of students will change their major during their time at USC, and our University is flexible enough for students to do that.  (We also know that, because you can only be admitted to one major at first, many students will add on majors and minors once they get here).

That being said, knowing a bit about what you want to study, and why USC would be a good place to study it, will help you in our process.  Take the time to really look at our short answer section.  We ask how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC.  This is an EXCELLENT place for you to show us why you think your major is a good choice for you (and to show us more generally why USC is a good academic fit).  Do your research so you can advocate for yourself and help us see your place here—what ideas will you add to the class discussion?  How will you contribute to your group project?  What kind of research will you do?  When we read your application, we look to see whether you are you simply regurgitating factoids from our website or if you have really spent time thinking about how you can take advantage of what we have to offer?  In this short answer essay, you can tell us how you became interested in your major in the first place, why you think it would fit well with your strengths, how you would plan to use it after graduation…or even all of the above! There are many ways to approach the question, so spend some time reflecting on why you’re choosing to pursue this field of study.  The strongest short answer essays address both your interest in your major and your interest in USC.

But how do you know which major is right for you?  We have over 150 majors at USC, so you have a lot of choices!   Where do you even begin to do your research?  We are excited to announce Major Mondays (coming soon to our social media channels).  Through Major Mondays, we will explore majors that you might not have heard of before (or that might easily be confused with other majors) in order to help you find the best match for you.  We’ll post content each week, but don’t let your research stop there.  The websites and admission materials that our academic departments put out are great resources, as is coming to one of our on-campus Meet USC programs or off-campus Discover USC programs.  Don’t underestimate how much researching programs of study can help clarify your academic path and help you put together an excellent application to USC!