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Don't Pick The Wrong Major Because You're Desperate

Should You Just Grab Any Major to Get into Cal?

Recently I had a situation with an overbearing parent.  Yes, I understand parents are frazzled. You’re trying to do all you can to help your offspring, and being a helicopter parent isn not necessarily a bad thing in my book.

But there are times when I believe a parent needs to take stock, pull back and think of what is best for their child. I am going to focus on one area – the choice of major when applying to an elite campus. To make it simple I will focus un UC Berkeley.

Should you apply to a major that is easier to get into and then switch?

While the UCs probably don’t like this approach, it’s workable and something I recommend often.  There are caveats, however.

  1. The intended major — that is is the one you will switch to after getting admitted — needs to be available.  You cannot switch to some majors as a transfer, such as Compute Science, Engineering, Business Admin and a few others. So, if those were one of your intended majors and you don’t think you have the chops — but it is imperative that you go to Cal — then you need to be happy with the major you put on the application. I strongly emphasize this when a student takes this route, and will try and pick a major that fits their wheelhouse. For instance, if Business Admin was the primary choice, perhaps Econ would be good, or Math or International Relations.
  2. If the intended major is open to switching after admittance (and was not chosen because it has a low admit rate), then I will work with the student to pick the major with the best chances and try to tie it in with their skill set. The UCs are very cognizant of the back door approach so you want to eliminate that obstacle as much as possible.
  3. Note that you can switch into some selective majors  after admittance. For instance, while you cannot get into Engineering from another college,  such as the College of Letters and Science, if you are accepted into the College of Engineering you usually can switch to another engineering major.

Those are really the only three scenarios. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room. Now here is where it gets gnarly.

You want your kid in no matter what, with no thought to the major.

There’s the old adage you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. 

I had a parent last week who was insistent her daughter get into Cal. Originally, the young lady was studying Biology but flunked Calc 1 and Calc 2 three times each, so decided to move into computer gaming. This was decided upon without any related experience. That’s fine.  However, there is no gaming major at Cal (there is a club) and I told the mom, with the new Berkeley draconian CS rules it would be near impossible to be admitted into CS, especially considering her general lack of preparedness, not to mention transfers aren’t allowed to switch in. She could certainly take her chances, but if Cal was the end game, it would not result in the desired outcome.

I tried to steer the mom to other majors her daughter had previously showed an interest in (there were a few) but the mom didn’t especially care for them. She then decided we would pick the easiest Cal major. That on its own is not an issue. The issue was that according to the mom, like a dog chewing on a bone, she kept banging on about eventually switching to CS with a focus on the elusive gaming, even though that would not and could not happen.

A problem also arose for me because the mom was making all the decisions. She went down the major list. Her daughter had one year left at a CCC and was applying this fall, Maybe her daughter could major in Architecture, then maybe Landscape Design. The mom particularly liked Japanese (even though her daughter had never taken Japanese and needed to complete intermediate level, an impossibility since she was applying in a few months).  I kept asking, does your daughter want this major because that that is where she’ll end up, and what is the game plan in terms of career?  The mom was making all the decisions, and these majors made no sense in terms of her daughter’s passions or career objectives.

I set out two pretty good options, the paths of which I detailed in a report:  Linguistics (with a focus on computer linguistics and AI) or Interdisciplinary Studies where she could create a blend of of disciplines, including CS. Both needed none to two requirements that could easily be completed in fall and both had fairly high admittance rates. I gave a lot of thought to them and tried to fit her earlier medical focus in with CS and even gaming, offering the motivation behind the majors, which her daughter could add in the application (her biology courses got her interested in AI and how gaming modules might help with mental and cognitive issues). The mom was not overly thrilled. I  also suggested better UC options to fulfill her desire fort gaming, which were not acceptable to her.

When she later contacted me again because she now had a new idea for a major I said I did not want to continue. I had fulfilled my obligation (she was paying based on hourly rates). I know nothing about the daughter, only that she never had a voice.

Here is where you need to reassess.

Feel secure that I appreciate parents who are involved and want to help their child find the right path. I encourage it and did the same. But sometimes it won’t go exactly to plan. You are not going to get the major you want.  I don’t mean to be snide, but put your big girl pants on and choose a new path. Then choose a major that will be enjoyable. Japanese, with no background, simply because the mom wants her daughter at Cal?  I can tell you with 100% certainty if a student does not connect with their major, they will not do well and will not enjoy their college years.

I work with students to find the best combinations to obtain the best results,  but flexibility is key. Also letting you child have a voice is vital somewhere along the line. Luckily, I don’t run into this very often.

Trust me, there are always options, and if the first isn’t viable, the second can be just as good.

For full transparency you can find her one star review on my reviews page.

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Lindy is an independent UC admissions consultant, who works with both transfers and freshmen. She also has just completed her first novel, a supernatural thriller set in San Francisco.

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