My journey has taken me to public universities of various sizes, some popularly known for a given academic program within their school. It has not been unusual, for instance, to hear that students chose Virginia Tech for their architecture or engineering school, the University of Maryland-College Park for journalism or politics, Miami of Ohio for their business program or Rutgers-New Brunswick for performing arts or pharmacy. The popularity of these schools and/or programs goes beyond state borders.
Admissions officers are well aware that some programs are better known or more competitive than others. They’re honest enough to admit that when they conduct an information session. They will also advise prospective students and their parents to have a second major in mind.. They believe that the student might like the school enough to consider pursuing another major. This is called second-choice admissions.
Second-choice admissions offer bright students the option to take on another academic program or enter with an undeclared major. In some cases they can still take the introductory courses that they would have taken in their first-choice program. A student who was not accepted to a college of engineering could still take calculus, chemistry and physics in the college of arts and sciences and try to transfer to engineering for their sophomore year.
Second-choice admissions impacts a school’s acceptance rate as well as its yield rate. A school that routinely offers second-choice admissions (also called second-chance admissions by at least one person I have met on my school visits) will appear to have a higher overall acceptance rate than a school where students either do not need to declare a major or one where students are more set on their academic goals.
The reality is that admissions to the popular programs, especially those in high-demand pre-professional fields are much harder than admissions to the school. If the school turns down more people than it accepts for these programs, but offers many students their second choice will likely have a lower yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who decide to come.
The students who have their heart set on a program decide to pursue it at another school. This is one reason why excellent state schools such as Rutgers-New Brunswick and Virginia Tech have large (and still growing) volumes of applications but exceptionally low yield rates. l.
Should your student choose between a school and a major?
It depends. Some students may like the school. They may also realize that a very similar program (for example, chemistry instead of chemical engineering) might help them get where they want to go. Or maybe their heart was not really set on that first-choice program. Maybe that school was also their least-cost option, like their home state university.
For instance, suppose your student was not offered admission to the pharmacy school at Rutgers, but was accepted under second-choice admissions as a biology major in the School of Arts and Sciences. S/he also applies to two pharmacy programs in Philadelphia, the University of the Sciences and Temple, and gets into both. It’s less expensive to go to Rutgers and study something else than it is to go to one of the other two schools. However, it may be impossible to transfer into pharmacy. Does s/he choose the school or the profession?
It’s easier to change schools than change careers. If your heart is set on the career, pursue the career. If you’re not necessarily committed to a career, choose the school that is your least-cost option or the one where you believe that you will get the most help to make the best decision.
In this case second-choice admissions do not need to be your guide.
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