What is an Alternate Major?

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College application season is, perhaps, the most stressful time of the year for a high school senior- there are checklists to be made, documents to be sorted, essays to be written, and so much more. You might have noticed that when you fill out university applications, some schools give you the option to list an alternative major. Keep reading as we explain what is an alternate major and everything you should know about picking one.

What Does Alternate Major Mean?What Does Alternate Major Mean?

It’s common knowledge that filling out a college application requires you to select your intended major or the relevant school you’re applying to within a larger university. Applicants are then evaluated against their academic program peers by admissions officers. Keep in mind that some majors are more competitive than others, and this is where alternative majors come in.

If a university cannot admit you to your first-choice college/major, they’ll consider you for your alternative major. Increasing your chances of getting into a school depends on the strategies you adopt based on an institution’s specific policies.

Examples of Alternate Majors

Examples of Alternate Majors

So how exactly do alternate majors work? In this section, we’ll take a look at some alternate major examples to help you decide which ones you can pick as a backup in case you don’t secure admission into your first choice:

Information Science

Information science is an alternate major for computer science because it includes a technical side. While the primary focus is on information (no surprise there), you’ll also delve into the intricacies of programming, how to design services and information systems, and more.

Students in this major learn how to interpret, manage, organize, and evaluate information that can be applied to the real world. You can streamline communication between computers and people, ensuring everyone has consistent and reliable access to the necessary.

Medical Assisting

If you’re looking for an alternate major to nursing, don’t rule out the prospect of becoming a medical assistant. These professionals work alongside nurses and doctors in various healthcare settings like health clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals, etc. Medical assistants usually take on duties that incorporate both administrative and clinical aspects. For example, they prepare exam rooms, greet patients, take patient vital signs, and schedule appointments.

Nurses and medical assistants differ in the autonomy and scope of their work, with nurses practicing and providing care under a nursing license. In contrast, the latter offers basic patient care while tackling admin tasks. Get ready to learn all about diagnostics, human biology, laboratory procedures, medical law and ethics, office management, and medical terminology.

Urban Planning

Urban planning programs integrate practices and theories for creating thriving communities, teaching students how to create green spaces and business districts. Additionally, you will look at methods to improve transportation and study neighborhoods.

Most of these programs offer the same courses studied by architecture majors, including:

  • Sustainable cities
  • Geographic design and information science
  • Planning methods

Suppose you don’t get admission into an architecture program for your bachelors. In that case, you can opt for pursuing urban planning because you can easily continue a master’s degree in an architecture program afterwards.

Engineering Management

Engineering continues to be a challenging and competitive major since various engineering specialists hold significant roles in modern society. For this reason, don’t be alarmed if you don’t get into your intended program because you can choose an alternate major for engineering that will keep you securely on track for your future education.

Consider, for instance, Engineering Management, as it provides several great career opportunities and is a great starting point to help you fulfill your dreams and goals.


Education, finance, government policy, international relations, law- you name it, Economics covers it! Students interested in any of these fields should consider enrolling as an Econ major and be prepared to learn primary issues of commercial, political, and social processes. But wait, it gets better: even those interested in current events, math, history, politics, and philosophy can obtain several career options by selecting this major.

An economic degree prepares qualified experts to perform not only duties in the business world, but also the federal government. While the four years of study will be hard, it will be worth it.

What Colleges Allow You to Choose an Alternate Major?

What Colleges Allow You to Choose an Alternate Major?

Now that you’re more aware of what an alternate major means and how they work, let’s take a look at some colleges that allow incoming students to opt for an alternate major:


At UCLA, you can indulge your curiosity and explore subjects that align with your academic strengths, interests, and personal goals. UCLA applicants can apply as undeclared or declare a major on the UC application form, with their major choice neither helping nor hurting their prospects of getting in.

In fact, a large number of freshman applicants at the college apply as undeclared. You can also select a UCLA alternate major, as it is one of the top and most prestigious universities in the country.


UCSB’s ratio of spaces to applications entails that securing admission into specific majors is highly competitive, limiting the number of possible enrollments. Still, if this institution is your dream university, don’t give up hope if you aren’t admitted to your desired major. There are several exciting and popular UCSB alternate major options that you might enjoy just as much.

Suppose you apply to the College of Letters and Science but don’t meet the requirements for the major. In that case, you should look towards the college’s plethora of interesting honors programs, minors, and majors; trust us, you won’t be disappointed.


The school’s Academic Exploration Advising team understands that deciding on a major can be daunting, so they have advisors to support you in revisiting your academic options and personal goals if needed.

If you don’t get into your first choice, you are allowed to:

  • Identify alternate majors or minors
  • Go through your major’s requirements and determine whether you should re-apply to the program
  • Explore your options by engaging with the institution’s resources and attending major information sessions, such as career inventories, self-assessments, and “What can I do with this major” guides

An AEA advisor can help map out a plan for your future and explore various opportunities, enabling you to set and reach new goals.

3 Factors to Consider When Choosing an Alternate Major

3 Factors to Consider When Choosing an Alternate Major

Of course, you can’t just pick any alternate major as a backup. Here are aspects to keep in mind when choosing an alternate major:

Your Priorities and Interests

Everyone decides on a major for different reasons, such as what they’re passionate about, skill sets, life goals, possible salary package, and much more. When choosing an alternate major, think about one that is the most relevant and significant to you and your goals, aligning with your abilities, interests, and economic advantage.

Exploring potential career paths and areas of study is recommended by engaging in the community, completing an internship, joining student clubs, or working on campus.

What are You Good At?

When you understand your natural talents and skills, you’ll go a long way in making a confident and informed decision regarding your alternate major. Sure, it may be your parents’ dream to see you become a doctor, but what if you want to work in a business setting or give back to the community?

Take a leap and discover what you’re good at. Reach out to academic advisors, career advisors, and your professors to guide you about how your skills fit your career path.

Salary Needs

Another important factor students need to consider is the salary potential and the role it plays in their decision-making process. Some people care more about their work’s significance than the compensation package offered; not everyone wants a job just for the money. That being said, every major opens up various career paths with different job salaries.

For example, if earning considerable money is your priority, you’ll need to be realistic about your interests. Professions such as social work and teaching typically don’t pay well and won’t work as your ideal major. On the other hand, majors like engineering and computer science are known to offer a sunny salary outlook.

Wrapping Things Up: What is an Alternate Major?

Undoubtedly, getting rejected from your first-choice major can be tough and heartbreaking. It’s even likely that your priorities change with time, especially as you gain more experience and information in college. However, you shouldn’t give up hope, and it’s in your best interest to turn to alternative options that will enable you to accomplish your goals.

An alternate major is a great way to hold on to what’s most important to you, so research potential careers, skills, and industries you’d be willing to pursue.

Did you enjoy this post? Check out our other helpful college guides and articles here.

> What is an AOS Degree?

> What Happens If You Don’t Get Accepted Into Your Chosen Major?

> What is a Selective College?

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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