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Last updated March 8, 2023

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How to Write a Why This Major Supplemental Essay (with Examples)

Key Takeaway

Great Why This Major essays convince the reader that you really know why you want to study something in particular. They blend stories about experiences with a more reflective tone about what a subject means to the writer. 

This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays. You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here.

What is a Why this Major supplemental essay?

The "Why this Major" college essay is one of the most common types of supplemental essays you'll encounter while applying to college.

It asks you to talk about your academic interests and to comment on the major or majors that you're considering at the school in question. Here's an example of a Why this Major prompt:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections.

The Why this Major is similar but not the same as a more general "academic interest" essay. This essay requires you to focus on the major and its specific offerings. So writing about the broader academic climate of a particular school will not suffice.

In this post we're going to talk about how to approach a Why this Major essay strategically. We'll look at how to do school-specific research for this type of essay and go into some great examples from this genre of college essay.

Why this Major Essay Strategy

Like with other genres of supplemental essays, the best place to start is usually figuring out what admissions officers are really looking for by assigning this essay.

A college experience involves a lot of things outside of the classroom, but universities are first and foremost places of academic learning. And your learning experience will likely be defined by the major you end up pursuing. Why this Major essays ask you to consider your learning trajectory through the lens of a major.

This may seem obvious, but the focus on major has implications for your school research (which we'll get to in a moment) and on your goals for the essay.

When admissions officers read these essays, they're looking for evidence of three things:

1) Academic Fit

Any essay focusing on academics, whether a Why Major essay or a more general academic interest essay, is a tool for admissions officers to gauge your academic fit with the school.

As we've discussed more deeply in other posts, academic fit (or school fit) is one of the biggest criteria that admissions officers use to evaluate candidates. At most highly selective schools, applicants are assigned a numeric score that measures their "fit" with the institution and its offerings. These scores are built directly into the calculus schools use to determine who gets in and who doesn't.

One of the main reasons schools require supplemental essays is to gauge school fit. And Why Major essays, out of all supplemental essays, are one of the best ways for an admissions officer to get a sense of whether you fit with their school's offerings.

That being the case, your Why Major essay needs to make a case for school fit. It needs to show that you're educated about the specific academic opportunities offered by the school and that you have a gameplan for taking advantage of those resources if you were admitted.

In other words, the Why Major essay is your chance to show that you would be an effective member of the school's academic community.

2) A sense that you've researched what a given major offers you in particular

Why Major essays, as I've mentioned, are importantly different from more general "academic interest" essays. For one thing, they ask you to talk specifically about majors.

This distinction matters a lot. Being able to talk coherently about a major requires you to have done some research. You need to have a sense of what kind of courses are offered (or required) in the program, what concentrations might be offered within the major, and any other major-specific resources and details might be relevant.

What's the difference between a molecular biology major and a biology major? Well, if you're writing a Why Major essay for a school that offers both, you should probably have the answer to that question on deck.

Again, admissions officers reading your Why Major essay want to get a sense that you've thought about what it would mean to study something particular. Maybe the major you're looking at has a senior capstone where you're able to go into the field and do research. Amazing, write about that!

3) Intellectual curiosity

On a more general level, the Why Major essay is an opportunity to showcase intellectual curiosity and a willingness to explore. It can be an essential part of your application narrative.

Even though majors are somewhat specific, there's still plenty of room for interdisciplinary study and exploration. Why Major essays are a great place to talk about the questions you don't have answers to, but that you'd love to explore through a particular major or intersection of majors.

In a Why Major essay, much of these three goals will be accomplished through school-specific research. We’ll talk about how to do that in a moment.

One thing to mention before we move on: because Why Major essays are tied to specific academic programs, you’ll want to avoid spending too much time (any time?) talking about the larger culture of the university. That might be appropriate in a more general “why us” essay, but not here.

How to do Why this Major Essay school research

When you're doing a Why Us essay, you might start your school research by looking at the school's "about us" section or their mission statement.

Why Major essays will require you to start your research at a more focused level, likely on the homepage of the major or department that you're writing about.

So let's start there. If you aren't sure which major you want to write about (totally normal) your first stop might be to poke around the different academic offerings at the school.

Once you find a major that you're interested in writing about, go deep into the homepage for the major. Your goal should be to find information about the major that you can use to build your "case" for school fit. Ideally, the details you pull out will relate in some shape or form to past experiences, internships, research experiences, etc., that are part of your resume.

Some places to start the search:

  • Faculty: I usually suggest that students take a peek at the faculty page for the major and spend some time reading through faculty bios. Most bios will give you a clear sense of the professor's research interests. Your goal should be to find someone who has a research interest/focus that aligns with something you'd be interested in studying. You don't need to have done related work in the past for this to be effective. What matters is that you can create a plausible case for working with that professor to study an area of common interest.
  • Coursework: Another necessary stopping point as you do your major interest is the coursework page for the major or department. This can be tricky to find at some schools. You can usually find it by googling "School name major name courses."

    Once you find the course page, look for a course or two that, again, fits your research or academic interests. You don't have to have a clear research interest in mind. It's always OK to lead with curiosity and with questions. When referencing a course in your Why Major essay, for example, you can talk about the kind of questions that course X would help you explore. This is an honest way to demonstrate fit and interest without having to pretend that you have things more figured out than you do.

    Take note of a course or two that appeals to you. These are great points of reference for these essays.
  • Learning objectives: Another invaluable piece of information for a Why Major essay is the department learning objectives page. Usually, majors and departments will spell out the kind of skills they hope their students will have gained by the time they finish their major. These objects are like mini mission statements, but particular to each major. Taking time to digest the learning objectives, and reflecting on them in your essay, is a great way to show you've done your research and that you align with what the school or program is looking for.
  • Lecture Series: Another good way to authentically demonstrate research and fit with a major is to look at the events that the program has hosted recently. Most majors / departments will host some form of lecture series, inviting speakers to share research or thoughts about interesting topics. Scroll through recent events until you find one that sounds interesting, then bring it up in your Why Major essay. P.S., it doesn't really matter how long ago the event was. Even if the lecture was held in 2015, it's still fair game to say that "you'd love to be involved in talks like..."
  • Internships: Finally, you could look at the opportunities that the major / department sets up for its students outside of the classroom. Some academic programs focus heavily on getting their students into the workplace by facilitating internship placements.

Overall, your goal should be to find authentic, relevant pieces of information that build a case for your fit with the major. If you have major-relevant experiences on your resume, and you can find particular professors, courses, or opportunities that synergize with your experienceseven better.

Remember, though, that your Why Major essay shouldn't just be a list of references to the department. While you should probably check out professors, courses, and all of the above for all of your Why Major essays, you probably SHOULDN'T include all of those categories in any one essay. Be strategic and sparingdrop references that are truly relevant to you and get at areas of authentic curiosity and interest.

How to write a Why this Major supplemental essay

OK, we've talked about strategy and researchbut how do you actually structure a Why Major essay?

I usually recommend finding a universal hook that relates to your academic interest. A hook is one of the most useful and versatile tools you can build for yourself while writing college essays. Here's an example of a good one:

Hooks do two things. First, they get the essay off to an engaging start by providing a touch of action. Second, hooks create a narrative bridge to an academic subject, embedding an intellectual topic in the real context of your life.

A hook doesn't need to be longin fact, it shouldn't be. Why Major essays are NOT about telling a story: they're about answering the prompt and showing that you've done your research.

Once you have your hook, your next step might be to reflect a bit about the major area you've chosen to write about. You can talk about when and why you became interested in the subject. This might mean giving a brief recap about an experience you've had that relates to the major area. This section shouldn't be too long, just enough to give some background about your relationship to the field of study.

Next, you're going to transition into the bulk of the essay, where you talk about the major in question. This section is where you'll talk about the things that interest you most about the major and what you'd hope to accomplish studying it.

This is likely where you'll be introducing the research you did. You can talk openly about the courses you'd want to take, the professors you'd learn from, and the opportunities the department / major would offer you. If you've had past experiences relevant to the major, you should frame your research as an opportunity to build on or go deeper into those experiences.

This is a great time to bring up questions that you'd hope to explore as a student in the major. What are you curious about? What could you see yourself researching? It's OK to not have all the answers, and to say this in your essay, but do your best to suggest a possible area of exploration that would occupy your focus in the major.

Finally, you might want to focus on how the opportunities offered by the major will support your vision for who you want to become after graduation. Maybe you want to have a career in sports psychology, or go on to study medicine in graduate school. Don't be afraid to talk about how the major will set you up to explore these pathways and figure out what's right for you.

Talking about future-you can be a great way to give admissions officers a sense of your fit with the major. If your goal is to go into the medical field, and you know that a particular liberal arts college's biology program sends 87% of graduates on to graduate school, you should definitely bring that up as a reason for applying. It shows maturity, a sense of clarity about what you want for your future, and it'll give a reader the sense that you've done your homework.

Connecting your interest in the major with your vision for your future is always a good look. It shows that you're connecting the dots between the academic pathway right in front of you and your longer-term goals.

Why this Major Supplemental Essay Example

Example Essay: Gen-Z Votes

27%.((Intriguing hook.))

That((In this paragraph, the writer shows clear knowledge of their field of interest.)) was the number of voters aged 18-29 who voted in the 2022 midterm elections. That number was actually up about 7 percentage points from 2018, which saw the highest voter turnout in a midterm election in 100 years.

Gen Z is showing up. And I believe my generation will save our country.

My peers and I are the most diverse and progressive generation the world has ever seen. We are ready to combat climate change and mass shootings, protect healthcare and promote mental health, and fight global warming. And, unlike previous generations, our youngest voters are showing up at record numbers – but it is still too low.

That’s why I started my organization, Gen-Z Votes. What started as a class project morphed into a multi-high school movement, then a statewide campaign, and now leads me to apply to the political science major at Michigan((The writer explicitly connects their accomplishment with the reason they want to major in political science at Michigan.)). I am also excited to explore the liberal arts curriculum in LSA and learn more about philosophy, economics, and communication.

When recruiting peers to help lead Gen-Z Votes, I quickly learned two things: different members had different political priorities and also brought different strengths to the table. When we needed someone to meet with the superintendent to inform them of our plan to organize a walk out to protest gun violence, Brian’s ease in communication made him the man for the job. When we designed posters for a voter registration drive, Julia put her graphic design skills to work.

Similarly, I find that the global issues we care about cannot be addressed by one perspective((Clear strengths: initiative and collaboration)). If we want to combat climate change we need scientists but we also need to recruit philosophers, musicians, and writers to the cause. I am excited to explore the broad curriculum at Michigan, join the UMICH Votes organization, and bring my breadth of experience to politics after Michigan.

 

Want to see even more supplemental essay examples? Check out our college essay examples post

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