Engineering Application Is Full of Arts Activities — Will This Hurt?

I am filling out my Common App, and listing my activities makes me realize none of them are in my planned major (civil engineering). They're all in music or theater (or musical theater!) Is that going to hurt me when I apply? My GPA and SAT are competitive with other engineering applicants.

As with many good questions (and this is one for sure), there's no clear-cut answer. On one hand, your list of music and theater endeavors will be a breath of fresh air for admission officials who have just snoozed through a few hundred activity rosters rife with robotics clubs and Math Olympiads. But on the other hand, some of these folks may wonder how genuine your interest in civil engineering really is and/or whether you'll be able to stick with what is usually a very specific and demanding academic program.

Many students these days pick engineering as a prospective major because they've been told (often by worried moms and dads) that it won't leave them flipping burgers or making macchiatos after graduation. So “The Dean" suggests that you let your colleges know why you've selected this field ... and that it's really your decision and not a parental edict. You might be able to do this as part of your Common Application essay or in one of the required supplemental essays. But if not, I recommend that you compose a statement for the “Additional Information" section of your application (or write an extra, unsolicited essay, which you submit separately) that explains your choice.

You can point out that, although your extracurriculars may scream, “Artsy," you are interested in engineering because _____. You could even find links between your current passions and future goals. For instance, I've seen theater sets so complex that they may have required a civil engineer to design and assemble!

So if you want to take a best-of-both-worlds approach to your applications, give your arts activities the attention they deserve but also assure admission committees that you've given careful consideration to your intended major.


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