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Which field of study is best for you? Check out tips for choosing a major

Two of the top reasons international students study at a U.S. university are the range of degree programs offered and the flexibility around choosing a major. You can find thousands of different subjects to study, everything from biomedical engineering and dance to criminology and video production.

As you decide where to study, your next biggest challenge is deciding what to study and choosing a major or field of study that is best for you.

The good news is that the U.S. university system is flexible. You can choose two different majors at once, earn a minor, or even change your mind in the second year of your studies.

First let’s talk about degrees and majors in the U.S.:

  • What is a bachelor’s degree?
  • What are majors, double majors and minors?
  • How to choose the best college degree program for you

What Is a Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree in the United States takes most students four years to complete. During the first two years, called the freshman and sophomore years, you take general education courses. A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree tends to focus on the humanities or liberal arts, whereas a Bachelor of Science (BS) focuses on math or science majors.

  • Typically, you take four to five classes (equivalent to 12 to 15 credits) each semester or quarter.
  • About 50% of your classes during these first two years are required, like English 101, College Reading and Writing and College Algebra.
  • Another 50% of your classes are elective, meaning that you choose which courses to take within certain required categories, such as sciences, humanities, social sciences and health.

You work with your college advisor on choosing a major and deciding which classes are right for you. Let’s say you are studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago and decide to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. For your sciences requirement, your advisor would recommend you take a chemistry course rather than a geography course because it fits better with your degree program.

During the second two years of college or university—your junior and senior years—you focus mostly on courses in your degree program. For example, in a BA program in Business Administration at the University of Kansas, you may take a semester of finance, accounting and marketing classes.

What is a Major, a Double Major and a Minor?

Your primary degree program is called your “major.” Most U.S. colleges and universities also give you the option of selecting a minor, also known as your secondary degree program.

What if you want to major in two different subjects? No problem.

At Louisiana State Universityyou can enroll in two bachelor’s degree programs at the same time. Just know that earning two majors usually requires 30 credit hours more than earning one. And if the two programs are in different colleges within the same university, you must be accepted for admission to both colleges.

Suppose you are a student at Northern State University in South Dakota. You want to major in accounting, but you also love art. Then you could easily minor in fine arts. Problem solved.

So … How Do You Choose a Major?

The first two years of your bachelor’s degree is a great time to figure out which major is the best for you. We recommend three steps to help you make your decision.

1. Get social on campus

U.S. colleges and universities have many social and academic clubs to join, volunteer opportunities to explore, music and theatre performances to see, sports to try, and so on. And since most Americans attend universities far away from their home towns, they are looking to make new friends like you. Try new things, have new experiences and meet interesting people.  Along the way, you will learn what your talents are, what types of people you want to work with and what activities you find most rewarding.

2. Take unusual elective courses

In addition to taking required courses such as English and math, you can choose elective courses, such as Russian, Eastern philosophy, yoga, sailing and cultural anthropology. These courses could be the building blocks to the type of career and future you want.

3. Talk to your college guidance and career counselor

All U.S. universities have excellent college counseling and career services centers with staff that has worked with thousands of American and international students. They can provide you with aptitude tests, job quizzes and seminars, and even arrange job shadows.  These are great opportunities to visit local businesses and see the types of jobs and day-to-day tasks people with your college major do.

Above all, remember that you have a choice about your future. To make the best decision, keep an open mind, have new experiences and take advantage of your unique opportunity to study in the United States.

Explore more great reasons to study in the U.S.