Discover how to use impactful stories and create a “why this major” essay you’ll be proud of
The closer you get to your high school graduation, the more often people will ask you, “What are you going to study in college?” And colleges themselves are no exception.
Many college and scholarship applications will ask you to write a “why this major” essay. Out of all the different courses of study you could choose, why are you deciding to be a (fill in the blank) major?
Maybe you’re confident in your college major choice, or maybe not. Either way, it can be difficult or frustrating to articulate your reasoning in an impactful college application essay.
What do colleges want to learn from your “why this major” essay? What should you write about? If you’re choosing a popular major, how can you make your essay stand out? And how should you write the “why this major” essay if you’re undecided?
I promise you, once you adopt the right perspective for the “why this major” essay, you’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to write.
Keep reading to discover how to approach and write a stand-out “why this major” essay—with minimal stress and maximized impact.
What is the purpose of the “why this major” essay
You might be wondering, why do college admissions officers care about your reasons for choosing a college major? And it’s a good question. If you understand what they’re trying to learn, you can write the perfect “why this major” essay.
So here’s why this specific college application essay is important to colleges. They want to know you’re thoughtfully considering and exploring your major options—using strong self-awareness, logic, and reasoning.
A “why this major” essay consisting of “my teacher told me to become a lawyer” doesn’t show much self-awareness or career exploration.
In fact, a student with that response is likely to struggle when they realize how hard a law career is. They might even drop out of school, which is the last thing colleges want. So a weak “why this major” essay can actually be a red flag to college admissions officers.
On the other hand, colleges will be impressed if what you share in your “why this major” essay aligns with their institutional values. For instance, some colleges value social justice, some global connectedness, and still others scientific innovation.
So when you write your “why this major” essay, colleges will look at your reasoning and assess if you’re a good fit for their community and academic values.
Here are a few examples of the “why this major” essay prompt:
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Why do you want to study your chosen major specifically at Georgia Tech?
How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania?
How to pick the best stories for your “why this major” essay
Your “why this major” essay should follow a specific structure, which is what makes writing it rather straightforward. All you need to do is include a few brief stories or anecdotes that illustrate highlights of your career exploration process.
Let’s get to brainstorming those stories. You’ll want to sit down at your computer and ask yourself a set of three questions.
1. What was the first time you encountered this subject or career field?
If it’s a common career and you don’t recall your first encounter with it, zero in on when you first had the idea that you could pursue this career for yourself.
2. How did you explore this career?
Write down whatever you did to learn about this career option. For instance, maybe you did some research online, took a specialized class at school, watched a few Youtube videos, or talked to someone in that field. You’ll want to pick one or two of the most meaningful activities from this list to include in your essay.
As a side note, if you haven’t done anything to explore your intended career yet, it’s not too late! Squeeze in some meaningful exploration before you come back to finish your “why this major” essay.
3. What was your “aha” moment when you decided this career is right for you?
What were you doing or learning when you became ready to commit to pursuing this career? What was the connection or realization? For instance, maybe you realized medicine is the perfect combination of science and helping people, so you decided to become a doctor.
Once you’ve identified your stories, you have the outline of your “why this major” essay. Not too hard, right?
What if I’m undecided about my college major?
It’s okay if you’re not ready to commit to a college major just yet. You’re not alone if you submit your applications with an undecided college major. But it can be a bit more tricky to write your “why this major” essay.
So if this is your situation, take a modified approach. Describe two or three areas of interest and why you’re considering them as possible career directions. Once again, you can use anecdotes of how you discovered and explored those options.
Then, you’ll want to discuss how you plan to explore your interests and potential careers while you’re in college. This will show admissions officers that you’re actively trying to determine your career direction.
How to write an impressive “why this major” essay
After selecting the right stories during your brainstorming session, you’re ready to weave them together into a cohesive narrative. Basically, you’re creating a new story—the story of your career exploration and decision-making.
To make this narrative extra memorable, bring your readers right into the action. Try to begin your “why this major” essay with a hook. Here’s an example.
My hand trembled slightly as I poured my chemical solution into the beaker. I had just witnessed most of my classmates fail to achieve the right reaction, but I desperately hoped I would succeed.
As I watched the liquid bubble and turn the right shade of blue, I thought to myself, “Am I actually good at this?”
Isn’t that essay introduction much more engaging than, “I first thought about becoming a chemist in chemistry class”?
You’ll also notice this essay excerpt was vivid and illustrative—always a good college application essay tactic.
Here are a few more dos and don’t for writing your “why this major” essay.
Don’t give a report about the major or career you’ve chosen. Your application readers don’t want to learn about the field of engineering. They want to learn about you!
Do create a clear thesis about what you want to study and why. You can include it in the beginning, middle, or end of your essay—wherever it fits best.
Don’t say, “I’m not sure what I want to study.” As I mentioned, share a few major options that interest you if you haven’t decided on a single one just yet.
Do think about the personal qualities you’re communicating through your stories. Do they demonstrate your problem-solving skills, determination, or natural curiosity?
Don’t write about a major the college doesn’t have. Make sure to do your research. If they don’t have your ideal major, find the closest one and explain how it can help you reach your dream career.
Do get specific about how the college can help you achieve your career goals. You might touch briefly on how you plan to make the most of their academic departments or campus resources.
Above everything, remember that you’re sharing an important story about yourself. Make it as interesting and unique as you are!
Final thoughts about the “why this major” essay
Many students enjoy writing their “why this major” essays because it reminds them of why they’re so excited to study their chosen subject field. I hope working on this college application essay has the same effect on you!
After all, if you use the approach, brainstorming method, and writing tips I shared, creating a memorable “why this major” essay should be a breeze.
I’d love to hear from you! What stories are you planning to include in your “why this major” essay? Where are you feeling stuck? Drop a comment below to share.