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gilgamesh's avatar

Is it better to pursue an uncommon major?

Asked by gilgamesh (227points) March 13th, 2009

My son wants to do international relations in college. He is very interested and there are some nearby colleges which offer the major .But he concerned, as they are state universities and not necessarily high tier colleges. He is wondering whether it is a good idea to pursue an unorthodox major, like philosophy, and try to apply a harder institution. his logic says that an uncommon major would have less applicants and thus easier admissions.

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14 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I would think that a major with a clear career path is more likely to be helpful in these times.

ponderinarf's avatar

Well, my former school has closed many majors due to the economic downturn and lack of interest. So I would be very careful. What is available today is disappearing by the hour.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I would opt for a philosophy major at a stronger school, with an MBA in international business. This was true a decade ago, and continues to be true today, because of the nature of the training of complex thinking that transpires in the coursework for philosphy majors.

You can train a philosophy major to succeed in business, but you can’t always train a business major to think in terms of far-reaching implications.

I should add that most people change their major at least once.

Jeruba's avatar

He doesn’t have to declare a major before he gains admission to a liberal arts college. His intended major shouldn’t be a factor in his acceptance. Unless, of course college admissions have changed in some very weird ways in the past few years.

A philosophy major is regarded as having higher real-world value than it was years back when it was considered an ivory tower field. It’s a good preparation for law school, for example.

Today’s conditions are not the norm, and things may have changed just as much by the time today’s freshmen graduate as they have since today’s graduates were freshmen.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Jeruba is correct—intended major has no part in admissions most places. You’re either good enough or you aren’t.

cwilbur's avatar

There’s no such thing as a major with a clear career path. It’s better to follow what you love, because you are motivated to do better at what you love.

The most valuable skills you can have, bar none, are creative thinking and critical thinking. I’ve said before that I would much rather work with a humanities major (so long as it’s an intellectually rigorous degree) who picked up programming skills afterwards than with a computer science major, even one with a 4.0. The humanities major will have learned how to think analytically and critically; the computer science major will know a massive collection of trivia about whatever language was in fashion five or six years ago.

adreamofautumn's avatar

As others have mentioned…your major plays no factor in an undergraduate admissions application. Most don’t even ask you to declare before you apply. This is different for graduate school, but undergrads it’s irrelevant as most people will change their major at least once (even if they eventually revert back to the original).

girlofscience's avatar

@adreamofautumn: Is that really true that most people change their major at least once?! Like, what percentage? Changing majors was not that common in my undergrad…

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Here’s recent NYT article about philosophy majors.

adreamofautumn's avatar


Are you unsure about your choice of major? If so, you’re not alone. Research by Penn State and other institutions has shown that up to 80 percent of students entering college admit that they’re not certain what they want to major in, even if they’ve initially declared a major. In addition, up to 50 percent of college students change their majors at least once before graduation, and some change several times. So you can see that being unsure about a major actually puts you in the majority.

I found that on the website for Penn State. Other websites show other statistics, but they’re all in the same general range.
So maybe not “most”, but definitely a good number.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I wonder if science majors are less likely to change their major than students in other majors…

adreamofautumn's avatar


It’s a study of only 2 schools, but it may be indicative i’m not sure.

Jeruba's avatar

I think it’s a personal matter. From the age of six I was going nowhere but straight to an English major. Some people are that sure of where they belong, regardless of whether it’s mathematics, education, or music. Others have to find their way. One great thing about a liberal arts education is that it gives you exposure to a lot of fields before you have to choose.

Consider how many specialties simply have no exposure in the early grades. Without a perspicacious parent or teacher or some unusual experiences, who would discover an early aptitude for, say, linguistics or sociology or astrophysics? Whereas the future art and biology majors might show up by third grade. So having a couple of years of general education while you think about it and try things on is a really great system.

My mother, a college teacher herself, always used to say, “Choose a major professor who really inspires you, no matter what he or she is teaching. You will learn the most that way.”

bruce9's avatar

He’s better off telling it like it is and explaining his passion for the major. Let him differentiate himself on some other aspect of his academic or extra-curricular activities.Even which state he comes from can be a plus. You can get a good education at many colleges, even ones not considered top tier.

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