Majors, Minors, and Fields of Study at US Colleges
Now that you’ve read the basics of how to start selecting a college or a university in the United States (Selecting an American College) you need to start thinking about what you want to study. The US has a unique and flexible system allowing you to choose your field of study (called a Major) after you have started college or even change it after a year or so of study.
What do you want to study?
Do you already know what you want to study? Most international students usually have a strong idea or preference for what they want to major in, either because more planning is needed to attend school so far from home or because of traditional fields they are expected to enter. Its important to have an idea of what field you want to pursue as it can affect the university or college you are applying to.
Are you sure that’s what you want to study?
American higher education allows you much more flexibility than almost any other system. If after you start your chemical engineering course, you decide you would rather be a physics, business, or Spanish major – no problem. Talk to your college advisor (usually a professor you are assigned at the beginning of the year) and ask whether you will be able to transfer into a different major without having to take extra classes. Many classes can transfer into another major, especially within your first and second year.
If you are receiving sponsorship or a scholarship from your company or government make sure they will cover your tuition for your chosen major. If you are required to choose a specific field, you will need to ensure that you will be able to enroll at a college with that major. Remember, not all colleges and universities have every field of study available, you will need to research their list of “undergraduate majors” (for a bachelors degree) or “graduate major” for a masters or PhD.
An undeclared major allows a person who has not yet decided what they will be studying or focusing on in college. In general a bachelors degree requires 120-130 credit hours, with each class averaging 3 credits. For most majors (other than engineering) you will be required to take general classes your first year, these classes are applicable to most majors and will allow you to “test the waters” and see whether you enjoy the course and want to continue your studies in that field.
Consider a minor in another field of study
A minor is a way to receive a specialty in a discipline without taking all of the courses required that a full major would need. Its an excellent way to establish your proficiency in an area that you may not feel you will be able to find work in (such as a minor in theatre, music, Spanish, etc) but would enjoy learning more about. You may also choose a minor or in an field where it would be a compliment to your degree, such as a minor in economics for a Business major or a language minor if you plan to work internationally for example.
What about a double major?
A double major is completing 2 full degree requirements, some of the classes may count towards both specializations. Generally you earn one Bachelors degree with 2 majors if both are in the same school or college (ie both from College of Arts and Sciences or both from Business school). You may also choose to earn simultaneous degrees from two separate schools at the same time such as a bachelors in Architecture as well as a degree in English.
Due to the heavy demands the double major or simultaneous degrees require, your college advisor or dean of the school will have to approve your choices. This is a very difficult tract, but can work for some students especially if you are interested in a field your sponsorship or scholarship will not cover. For example, you would be able to complete a degree in business (covered by your scholarship) while completing a separate major in sound engineering, music, screen writing, or any other major you are interested in.
You can always find more information as a current student by speaking to your advisor or if you are a prospective student, ask the dean of admission or admission counselor questions about choosing your major and whether a minor is a good choice for you!