Selecting a Major as an International Student in the U.S. – Here’s How

Selecting a Major as an International Student in the U.S. - Here's How

For an undergraduate student, finding the right major can be one of the most stressful parts of the college admissions process. Most students view their college major as the career path that they will take for the rest of their lives.

Although your career path might change in the future, choosing the right major for yourself is important.

How to Select a Major

Choosing a major involves balancing several factors. Here are a few things for you to consider:

1. Your Passion

What do you like?

If you like nothing more than curling up in front of YouTube and endlessly watching documentaries and travelogues about the history of Jerusalem, you are probably not cut out for a career in stock markets.

If lots of numbers and spreadsheets excite you, then you should probably skip a career in journalism and look for one in finance.

Analyze yourself and your motives. What excites you is what you would be happy doing, and you should major in the subject closest to where your passion lies.

2. Be Candid With Yourself

You are passionate about the launch of Falcon Heavy by SpaceX and you see yourself in mission control one day. But, you received a low score in math.

Be candid, and don’t lie to yourself. With a low score in math, you could probably propel yourself to a higher score, but likely not enough to reach the mastery of Advanced Calculus that would see you succeed as a rocket scientist.

Yes, there are exceptions; we read about them all the time. Albert Einstein was a patent clerk, and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both dropped out of college.

However, Einstein was a good student, and all the stories about him being ordinary in school are a myth. Gates and Zuckerberg dropped out of college because they felt they would do better teaching themselves, and all three of them were exceptional go-getters.

3. The Job Market

We don’t always get to choose what we want to study. You might be enchanted by plants, but botany is not a great career choice at the moment. Most plant species that matter have been cataloged. Not a lot of jobs await those wanting to venture deep inside Borneo to find new species.

However, you can easily find a lucrative career in gene mapping, epigenetics, or neuroscience.

The job market is heavily skewed towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. But even within STEM, there is little need for someone who is exceptional at math. Unless you are good enough to be a Ph.D. student at an Ivy League university, being good at math is going to land you a job as a high school teacher and nothing more.

Then again, someone good in math can major in economics and obtain the best jobs as a risk management officer of hedge funds. A large part of their job is to work with econometrics; the marriage of math with economics, to forecast the future of the economy, a particular sector, or a company.

4. Wait and Watch

If you have no idea what you are passionate about or you have diverse interests, it is okay to wait a while. Many colleges don’t require you to select your major in the first year as a freshman.

You can take a variety of classes and then decide. Talking to professors and upperclassmen can give you a deeper well of knowledge to draw from, with information from people with real life experience in different fields. Many decisions that seem difficult when you first arrive on campus can be easier after a year of classes.

Role of Psychological Tests

There are a variety of psychological and career aptitude tests that are available. These tests are not based on pseudoscience, but backed up by decades of research.

The most well-known is the test by Myers-Briggs. It is a self-report questionnaire that seeks to differentiate four traits:

  • Introverted vs. Extroverted
  • Observant vs. Intuitive
  • Thinking vs. Feeling
  • Judging vs. Perceiving

The first letter from each word is taken to form an abbreviation. This abbreviation forms your Myers-Briggs Personality Type.

For example, an ESTJ holds the extroverted, observant, thinking, and judging personality traits. They are adept at being hardworking traditionalists.

While an ESTJ would make an excellent nurse, hotel manager, or engineer, they might have a difficult time as a creative director in an advertising agency.

A new alternative to the Myers-Briggs test is a measure of Extroversion, Agreeableness, Openness, Conscientiousness, and Neuroticism known as The Big 5 Test.

When taken under proper guidance, these tests go a long way in identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Consider it as a map of your mind helping you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

However, with any of these self-reported tests, it’s important to consider your results with a degree of caution. Some test-takers have received totally different results just by taking the tests at different times. Therefore, it’s best to use their results as general guidelines; not exhaustive explanations of your personality.

Expect Change

It is quite impossible to future-proof your career. What you can attempt is to gaze into the crystal ball and assess what it might look like. Choosing a career that has a lot of mobility and allows you to continually learn is worth looking into.

Choose a major that is available, as close to your heart as possible, and generates a healthy number of jobs every year.

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