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  • Declaring Before You Arrive

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    Senior year of high school is fraught with enough difficult questions. Now your prospective colleges want to know what you intend to study for the next four years?

    Many students simply check the "undecided" box and wait to select their major until they get to college. Others declare a major on their application, only to switch in college as their interests change.

    Most of the time, it doesn't matter. There are occasions, however, when waiting works against you. Some career–oriented programs such as engineering, education and business limit their enrollment. If you don't declare that major on your application, you'll find it difficult to get a spot later on.

    Potential Admission Strategy?

    Sometimes students declare a major within a less competitive program, fully intending to change once they are in the door. Beware: This can backfire

    Many universities are made up of different schools-a business school, an engineering school, and a school of arts and sciences, for example. If you want to switch majors from within the same school–say from English to philosophy within the school of arts and sciences–your transition should be fairly smooth. But you'll run into roadblocks when you attempt to transfer between schools-say from arts and sciences to business. These schools usually establish their own set of admissions criteria. A transcript that clinches a nursing school acceptance might not get you very far with the music school committee.

    If a program you are considering is selective, talk to the admissions counselors at the school and discuss the feasibility of a transfer, should you change your mind.

    Potential Money Strategy?

    Some departments set aside money for students planning to study within their field. If you're leaning towards a major, but don't declare, you can lose out on a possible reward. On the other hand, if you declare a major and earn a scholarship but ultimately decide to pursue another discipline, you may see that handsome award package dwindle.

    The best course of action: Ask about the rules and restrictions of any award you receive for declaring a major.

    The (Great) Compromise

    How does a high school student know if she will have a passion for engineering? Or a head for business? We agree – that's a lot to ask. And most schools recognize that even applicants who declare a major may not be one hundred percent sure.

    Fortunately, some colleges make a provision for this uncertainty. They permit students to express their interest, but still allow them the opportunity to change their minds. "Undeclared engineering," for example, is a way you can straddle two academic spheres. You can begin focusing on the necessary coursework, but it's understood that you are still on the fence. Be sure to investigate whether your prospective colleges offer an undeclared option within your broader area of interest.

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