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What should I major in as an international student

interstride logo by Interstride
January 21, 2023

What should I major in as an international student? It’s a question many international students ask themselves and there’s no right or wrong answer. One of the main reasons international students choose to study in the United States is the range and flexibility of degree programs and majors.

Unlike other countries, the US does not require you to apply to and begin a specific degree program right away. International students can explore their options for a maximum of two years before having to declare a major. When choosing where and what major to study as an international student, you should be thoughtful in making these decisions to ensure your studies fit your long-term goals and career aspirations.

Should you pursue a BA or BS degree?

A bachelor’s degree is the most common undergraduate degree students receive at colleges and universities in the US. It is the first level of higher education and takes most students four years to complete. The two types of bachelor’s degrees are a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS).

A BA degree focuses generally on humanities and liberal arts, and includes courses in areas such as literature, history, philosophy, and the social sciences. A BS degree, also stylized as a BSc, typically focuses on math, science, and technological majors. When choosing a major, you will most often be choosing between a BA and a BS degree.

Read about the differences between a BA and BS Degree here.

Some students choose to pursue an advanced graduate or postdoctoral degree, such as a Master’s degree or PhD. Oftentimes, choosing a major has a large impact on your choice of advanced degree. But that’s not always the case. While a major in biology might translate best into medical school, or a major in political science might translate best into law school, a choice of major does not always have to directly tie to your advanced degree. Many MBA programs have accepted students who majored in humanities, social sciences, and the arts, just as many MEd programs have accepted students who have majored in mathematics, business, etc.

What are majors, double majors, and minors?

Choosing a major, or what to study, as an international student is a big decision in college. However, choosing a major is a decision that does not need to be made right away. That being said, studying in the US is a big financial decision for international students as well. You’ll want your choice of major, and therefore degree, to not only support your personal and professional goals, but also provide a return on your investment of money and time.

According to the US Department of Education, nearly a third of college students change their major in the first few years of college. Your choice of major determines what classes you will take and the skills you will gain during your four years. Many colleges and universities offer flexibility in deciding your major, and will often allow up to two years to decide and declare your major. Take your time in determining which major is best for you!

Double majors

Some students have a hard time choosing just one field of study and have the option to double major (study two majors at the same time), or select a minor (secondary area of study) in addition to their primary major. Double majoring in the US is common practice and allows students to graduate with one degree in two areas. When a student declares two majors, the two majors often go hand in hand, and may be offered by the same department. For example, a double major in International Studies and Foreign Policy or Finance and Marketing are common pairings.

Minors

If you choose to select a major and a minor, the major will be your principal area of study. The minor is a secondary, supplemental area of study. Majors and minors can be in similar or different areas. This allows students to focus their studies on a major that fits their intended career, while studying additional courses of interest to them. For example, a Business major and Philosophy minor, or a Finance major and Photography pairing.

As an international student, double majoring or declaring a major and minor, can show future employers that you have a more robust knowledge base. However, do not choose to double major or minor just for the sake of it. Be thoughtful in your decision and consider how choosing an additional major or minor will support your interests and goals.

What should you consider when choosing a major?

When considering a major, especially as an international student, you should ask yourself “what major is best for me?” Not only should your major be in an area you’re passionate about, but it’s important to remember that the major you choose can impact your career path post-graduation. As an international student, your choice of major can impact your ability to work in the US after graduation if that is your goal.

When considering your field of study, there are some important questions you should ask yourself, within two key areas:

1) Desired Career Outcomes

Think about the impact and value this major will have on your career path.

  • What career path do I want after college?
  • Will this major help me achieve the career I want?
  • What are my professional goals?
  • What is the average salary for jobs in this industry?
  • Are there a lot of job opportunities in this industry?

2) Immigration Benefits

Think about the implications of your degree on your ability to stay and work in the US. For example, STEM majors are a great option as these degrees offer advantages for international students after graduation.

  • Are jobs in this industry difficult to get in the US?
  • Will this major lead to an advanced degree?
  • Is this major STEM OPT eligible?
  • Wil this major make it difficult to find a job in my home country?

Which majors do international students choose?

The top three majors among international students in the US are (1) Math and Computer Science, (2) Engineering, and (3) Business and Management. As an international student, choosing a major in one of these areas, such as computer science, may position you at an advantage when searching for jobs or internships in the future. Degrees in these areas often generate high paying jobs and offer extensive opportunities for career growth. For example, students who major in computer science may see more job opportunities and higher chances of receiving jobs soon after graduation. Additionally, careers in computer science are safe and are unlikely to be impacted by shifts in the economy. Based on USCIS’s H-1B statistics, computer-related careers are the most in-demand foreign labor category. Additionally, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, jobs in computer and information systems, finance, and software are projected to be some of the highest paying jobs of the future. See below for some sample majors and their career tracks.

As an international student, when you graduate with a degree in a STEM major,  you can receive a 12-month OPT to 24-month OPT extension after graduation. The 36-month window is the perfect time for you as an international student to apply for an internship or gain relevant work experience. Read more about Optional Practical Training (OPT) vs. STEM OPT here.

MajorDuring CollegeAfter College
BusinessClasses: Management, Marketing, Business Theory, Field Work, etc.Job Examples: Marketing Associate, Consultant, Sales Representative, Investment Banker, Business Analyst, etc.
Computer ScienceClasses: Statistics, Mathematics, Data Visualization, Algorithms, etc.Job Examples: Mobile App Developer, Software Developer, UX Researcher, Cyber Security Analyst, etc.
EngineeringClasses: Mathematics, Computer Programming, Biotechnology, Engineering Specialties, etc.Job Examples: Mechanical Engineer, Aerospace Engineer, Software Developer, etc.
FinanceClasses: Economics, Mathematics, Accounting, Business Ethics, Management, etc.Job Examples: Insurance Agent, Finance Associate, Financial Analyst, Consultant, etc.

Conclusion

Choosing a major can be exciting and overwhelming. To start, it’s important to think through what you want to get out of your degree. The benefit of studying in the US is the flexibility offered in choosing your major or field of study. Don’t feel pressured to know right away! Thoughtfully consider the majors that will guarantee you a job you want, expand your knowledge in areas you’re passionate about, and help you secure a path in the US after graduating.

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