Five pineapples on blue backdrop, center one with sunglasses and headphones

Top Tips for the College Search When You're Pursuing an Atypical Major

The college search is grueling and students pursuing specialized majors have a unique challenge. Find the program you're looking for with these tips.

The college search process is grueling for anyone, though some students have a unique challenge: They know exactly what they want to pursue, but not many schools offer reputable programs (if any at all). The good news is that you’re ahead of the game because you’ve found a passion and a field you want to pursue before paying four years of tuition for college. While it may be harder to find a school to pursue this field, they are out there and accessible with a little extra effort.

Talk to professionals in your field of interest

School counselors and admission representatives are wonderful sources of information regarding college applications, but anyone looking to pursue a specialized trade should focus on getting specific advice rather than general information about college. If you’re a potential Musical Theater major, ask the director at your community theater for assistance rather than a counselor. If you’re a future Aviation major, talk to pilots at your regional airport or local flying school instead of your cousin attending a private college. If you’re like me and don’t know a single soul with similar career interests, try researching the thread pertaining to your major on College Confidential. Just remember to take any advice with a grain of salt and further investigate to form your opinions before further pursuing your field.

Related: List: Colleges with Unique or Highly Specialized Majors

Understand accreditation

Another tool to help you find schools for your specific major is to search for an accrediting council that regulates programs within your field. They often have websites that list accredited programs by state or region. Accreditation helps determine the quality of education and validity of a program for future employers. It also enables graduates to sit for certification exams and assists other colleges in deeming what credits will transfer if you end up attending more than one school.

Get your parents on board

The college search process is exponentially more difficult if your parents or guardians aren’t on board with your career plans. Many atypical fields are hard to break into, and parents may be wary of paying thousands of dollars to let their kids try. Students can combat this by conducting their own research and beginning their applications—applying to schools in rounds and to more selective specialized schools during the Early Action timeframe. If the results are unfavorable, then apply to your fallback universities during the Regular Decision round. This will show maturity and dedication to your field and education to your parents. Some parents may be more receptive if a student can beat admission odds in their chosen field. If your parents are concerned about the projected salaries for your career, having a backup plan can also help reassure them. Try persuading your parents with the outcomes of the alumni at a specific school to show that people in your field can be successful.

Plan your college list strategically

Deciding on a list of colleges to apply to may be stressful, especially if there are a small number of programs in the country. You should try to visit as many schools on your list as possible to see what feels right. Many college admission counselors recommend visiting about five schools, though I toured at least 15 before determining my dream school. Don’t be discouraged easily. When compiling a list of universities, students may realize their target schools are across the country or overseas. This is a hard reality to stomach as an 18-year-old, especially if it’s your first time away from your parents. When I applied to schools, my top three schools were in Arizona, South Carolina, and Ohio, with a safety school in my home state of Pennsylvania. All of these options were a plane ride away, but I reasoned that if I was truly passionate about my career, the miles between myself and my home wouldn’t matter.

Nail your application

A typical college application consists of five components: your personal statement, transcripts, résumé, SAT or ACT scores, and recommendation letters. These components are important for all students, though students interested in a specialized major should be advised that SAT scores and transcripts may be used as a baseline rather than a singular determining factor in admission. Many programs prioritize aptitude for a skill over test scores. Aptitude and passion can be shown through your essay, recommendation letters from mentors in your career path, and your résumé. These areas show demonstrated interest and commitment to a particular skill. This doesn’t mean you should slack off—it means you should pay careful attention to your portfolio, audition, or certification in addition to your studies.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Make Your Résumé Stand Out to Colleges

During the college search, please remember that specialized schools are not for everyone. These schools are intended for people who are wildly passionate about their field and future careers, so proceed with caution. It’s still possible to find a great program at a comprehensive school. So if you have any doubts during this arduous process, please seriously consider your options carefully. Good luck in your search!

Start finding schools that have your specialized major now with ease using our College Search tool!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Paige Miller

My name is Paige Miller, and I am currently a senior in high school who plans on studying at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University next fall. I consider myself a “chronic dreamer” who hopes to advocate for the betterment of all minority groups.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Aaliyah

Aaliyah

High School Class of 2022

My mother signed me up for a couple of scholarship contests through CollegeXpress. I was also able to do some research and compare the different schools on my list. I was able to see the graduation rates and different programs that helped me decide on Adelphi University. I will continue looking for some scholarships for my start in September.

Lu Diehl

Lu Diehl

High School Class of 2022

I never would have found the college I plan on attending without CollegeXpress! I've always been a person of ambition and have been dreaming of studying and working on my passion for law, legal studies, and political science. Washington College is where I plan on pursuing my career. My journey with my education has been difficult, and oftentimes, I was told I would never amount to much, but now I'm dual enrolled at Caroll Community College and have had experience in the fields I am dedicated to. Without the help of CollegeXpress (even in its early days), I would never have found Washington College and the information I need to apply and become a part of their community.

Asia Stockdale

Asia Stockdale

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me overcome a huge hurdle. Because of the small town I live in, I felt like I would never achieve more. I felt like I could never go beyond because of costs. I feared I wouldn’t be able to find scholarships. I had no idea of where to start. With CollegeXpress, I easily found scholarships—they came to me. It was a helper, and I was instantly matched with opportunities to go above and beyond educationally.

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

High Point University

High Point, NC

Ouachita Baptist University

Arkadelphia, AR

Cedarville University

Cedarville, OH