Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.
Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.

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What Should I Major In?

majors
liberal arts

Explore our guide to college majors and career options for international students, and discover what you can study in the USA.

Two women discuss one woman's work, while sitting a desk.

Many international students arrive at US universities with an answer to the question, “What should I major in?” But you may not need to think about choosing a major right away. According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately one third of all students change their major within the first three years of college. 

Whether you are still exploring the best college majors for the first time or are looking to study something different from what you originally planned, read our overview of some of the most popular college majors for international students studying in the USA. 

What degree should I get?

Let’s go over six possible college majors: business, computer science, economics, engineering, finance, and liberal arts. We will look at classwork, career options, entry-level job prospects, and pay. 

Remember, while it is smart to look at college majors based on career prospects and good-paying jobs, it is also important to find the right major for you. So, as you think about choosing a major, ask yourself:

  • What do I find interesting? 

  • What skills do I have? 

  • What do I see myself doing in the future? 

Keep these questions in mind as you review our list of college degrees and areas of study below. 

1. Majoring in business 

Business is the most popular college major in America. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 19% of all undergrads studied a business-related field in 2016-17. Business is also one of the broadest college majors, and it covers several different specialties. As a result, there is a wide range of class requirements and salary possibilities. Most undergraduates focus on learning the foundations of business and then find a specialization to study for their master’s degree onward. 

Business classes: At the undergraduate level, expect to spend a lot of time learning about the practical application of business theory, which could include group work, case studies, problem-solving, and internship or job placement requirements. 

What can I do with my degree? A business degree is versatile and helpful in many different high-paying careers. The most popular business career choices are in finance, accounting, management, and economics-related fields. In addition to choosing a specialization at the post-grad level, many students successfully combine a business degree with a different discipline, such as computer science or marketing. 

Entry-level jobs for business majors include:

  • Sales representative

  • Marketing coordinator

  • Human resources assistant 

  • Assistant buyer

Business major salaries: The median annual salary of a business major aged 25-29 in 2017 was approximately $50,500, according to the NCES. However, that number covers many potential careers and specialties. For example, an investment banking analyst might make more than $100,000 in total compensation in their first year, while an administrative assistant with a business degree could make as little as $30,000.

2. Majoring in computer science 

Approximately 4% of all US undergraduates chose computer or informational science majors in 2016-17, according to the NCES. It is an exciting time to be a computer science major: graduates with computer science degrees have the opportunity to make a real difference through technology in industries as varied as health care and education. Since students can apply computer science skills to almost any employment sector, it is one of the best degrees for people who are analytical and logical but not sure which industry is right for them. 

Computer science classes: Computer science classwork includes a lot of math, from calculus to statistics and linear algebra. You can also expect to take core classes in abstract data types, algorithm design, and computer organization. From there, the computer science courses get more specific and intensive and could cover anything from data visualization to robotics. 

What can I do with my degree? There are a lot of career prospects for computer science majors, from front-end development to database administration, and the future is promising, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer science occupations are expected to grow 12% by 2028, much faster than all other occupations. 

Entry-level jobs for computer science majors include:

  • Web developer

  • Front-end engineer

  • Back-end engineer

  • Quality assurance engineer

Computer science major salaries: The median annual salary of a computer science major aged 25-29 in 2017 was approximately $65,000, according to the NCES. The median salary for all computer science-related fields in 2018 was roughly $86,000, according to the BLS. 

3. Majoring in economics

Economics majors enjoy applying math and data to real-life scenarios. These scenarios can center around everything from personal wealth to public affairs. Economics majors are good at reasoning and logic. They tend to be interested in business and public policy, and many end up in law school after they complete their undergraduate studies. 

Economics majors often specialize in either microeconomics or macroeconomics. Microeconomics majors study small-scale or personal economic decision making. Macroeconomics majors study large-scale economic decision making. 

Economics classes: In addition to taking core microeconomics and macroeconomics classes, you can expect to study economic modeling, monetary policy, and strategy as an economics major. 

What can I do with my degree? While many economics majors continue their education with an MBA or law school, you can also work as an actuary, researcher, or analyst in a broad range of fields. According to the BLS, the job outlook for economists is good, growing at 8% between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average for all careers. 

Entry-level jobs for economics majors include:

  • Data analyst

  • Research associate

  • Benefits specialist

  • Business analyst

Economics major salaries: The median annual salary of an economics major aged 25-29 in 2017 was approximately $65,000, according to the NCES. The median wage for all economists in 2018 was roughly $104,340, according to the BLS. 

4. Majoring in engineering

Approximately 1% of all US undergraduates chose engineering technologies majors in 2016-17, according to the NCES. General engineering students study math, science, humanities, and social sciences. As an engineering major, be prepared to keep up with technological advancements as well as new methodologies and products throughout your career. Engineering majors find jobs in a broad range of industries depending on their specialization. 

Engineering classes: Core engineering classes revolve around math and science, but as students get closer to graduating, they could focus their studies on mechanical engineering, biotechnology, or computer programming, to name a few engineering-focused specializations. As a result, classwork could include anything from ethics to economics. If you choose to major in engineering, expect to take a lot of lab classes and to have a capstone project due before graduation. 

What can I do with my degree? Engineers work in almost all industries, and with an engineering bachelor’s degree, jobs are available in many sectors. Environmental engineers work to improve and protect the health of living organisms, and aerospace engineers develop new air and space travel technologies. Architectural and engineering majors can expect job sector growth of 3%—lower than the average for all careers—according to the BLS. 

Entry-level jobs for engineering majors include:

  • Electrical engineer

  • Industrial engineer

  • Network engineer

  • Environmental engineer

Engineering major salaries: The median annual salary of a general engineering major aged 25-29 in 2017 was approximately $70,000, according to the NCES. The median wage for all architecture and engineering-related fields in 2018 was roughly $140,760, according to the BLS. 

5. Majoring in finance

Finance and accounting are considered the most math-heavy of the business majors, but finance majors need to be good communicators as well. Finance professionals budget, invest, and manage money for people and businesses. Finance majors tend to be well-organized, detail-oriented people who are good at forecasting and like to work with money. 

Finance classes: Expect to take a lot of math and economics courses as a finance major. You can also expect to take business ethics, accounting, and management core classes if you are studying finance. You may be required to take some liberal arts classes, such as communications.

What can I do with my degree? Finance majors often work in roles that help people or businesses make better economic decisions. Typical careers include financial analysis, investment banking, and insurance management. According to the BLS, finance jobs are expected to grow by 7% by 2028

Entry-level jobs for finance majors include:

  • Insurance underwriter

  • Auditor

  • Actuary

  • Tax associates

Finance major salaries: According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the 2019 median starting salary for finance majors is approximately $58,000. That said, finance salaries take off like a rocket once you gain some experience. For instance, the median pay for a financial analyst in 2018 is $85,660, according to the BLS, with asset management and investment banking financial analysts earning as much as $125,000 early in their career, according to the job site WayUp.

6. Majoring in liberal arts

Approximately 2% of all US undergraduates chose liberal arts as their major in 2016-17, according to the NCES. A liberal arts education offers a broad overview of science, art, and humanities disciplines. The value of a liberal arts degree comes with its versatility, and it is an excellent choice for students who are not drawn to the STEM disciplines or may not yet know what they want to do in their careers. 

Liberal arts classes: Liberal arts majors take a wide range of courses, but you can expect mostly humanities and social sciences classes in any given semester. Students often create their own curriculums, focusing on anything from English to political science to economics. 

What can I do with my degree? According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workplace, recent graduates with liberal arts degrees face an 8.7% unemployment rate, 1.2% higher than the average for all recent graduates. However, Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based labor market analytics firm, found that liberal arts majors with one of eight technical skillsets can double their employability and even earn, on average, $6,000 more per year than those without these technical skills. Liberal arts majors can become teachers, marketers, political scientists, and lawyers. 

Entry-level jobs for liberal arts majors include:

  • Communications associate

  • Marketing associate 

  • Inside sales representative

  • Junior business analyst

Liberal arts salaries: The median annual salary of a liberal arts major aged 25-29 in 2017 was approximately $39,000, according to the NCES. 

Still struggling with choosing a major? 

If you are still asking yourself what degree should I get, do not worry. College is a time where you explore different options, even if that means you change your mind a few times before settling on the right major for you. To start, let your interests and passions guide you, and then use what you learn to make educated decisions as you go.  

Remember to reach out to your college advisors, talk with friends and family, and try to get some real-world experience working or interning in the career options you find most interesting. While picking a college major can be stressful, it is also an excellent opportunity to experiment with different possibilities. Do not forget to enjoy the process! 

Talk to a Shorelight advisor about academic support for international students >