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Studying in the US is an exciting opportunity for many students worldwide. The new setting, the new people to meet, the incredible facilities and resources to use and experience, and the prestige of some of the world’s top universities combine to present a fantastic setup that few places in the world can rival. But once you’ve decided that you want to study in the US, there follows a question that many students find difficult to answer: what do you want to study?
In many countries’ tertiary education systems, the pre-professional system is prevalent, meaning university students will study degrees related to the jobs they hope to secure after graduation. These are the degrees we are all familiar with: law, medicine, engineering, or a commerce degree which can allow you to become an accountant or an actuary. These degrees teach candidates specific skills for their future jobs and are extremely important in the production of qualified lawyers, doctors, engineers, and accountants, among other occupations.
However, the system in the USA is different in both purpose and structure. Many of America’s top universities follow a liberal arts curriculum, which we have discussed in previous blog posts in more detail. Essentially, the idea behind the liberal arts is to provide an education that covers a broad range of subjects (instead of the specificity of a pre-professional degree), with the intention of teaching students how to approach problems. This allows university graduates in the USA to study subjects they are passionate about, while allowing flexibility in the workplace after graduation. Although there are some exceptions - most universities will offer BSc degrees, for instance - the result is that students’ studies have little bearing on their occupation after graduation.
So that leaves us with our original question of what to study in the USA. Many degrees and majors are available, but if you are concerned with securing a specific job after graduation, you can still choose your major with the end goal in mind.
The first thing to note about the American system is that medicine and law are postgraduate degrees. While medicine has specific subject requirements that must be completed at the undergraduate level to qualify for the degree (known as “pre-med” requirements), there are no actual degree or major specifications for either of these two postgraduate courses. This means that students who want to become doctors or lawyers must complete their Bachelor’s degree and then apply to law school or medical school.
It is also true that many universities in the States do not offer business degrees at an undergraduate level. While there are some notable exceptions - for instance, UPenn’s Wharton School of Business or NYU’s Stern School - it is important to note that many students in the US choose to specialize in business at the postgraduate level by doing an MBA. Remember to check which schools offer your preferred degree when looking for universities!
Research shows that there are a few undergraduate majors that are seeing a big increase in popularity among international students. In particular, fields that work with data, such as business intelligence, data science, and artificial intelligence are becoming go-to majors for many international students.
But these aren’t the only fields that have become more attractive: user experience design, biotechnology, international business, and supply chain management and logistics are all increasingly viewed as great major choices for international students. These new preferences are seen in countries from Africa to Asia, and the US is well prepared for this increase in global demand. Many of the world’s top programs in these areas are found at top universities in America.
However, as an international student, you may wonder what other people are studying at top universities in the USA. Thus, it might be instructive to look at the preferred majors at some of the world’s leading universities: the Ivy League. Made up of 8 East Coast universities
The Ivy League’s exclusive admissions process ensures that each institution's academic standards are among the highest on the planet. These schools' resources and facilities make them leaders in many academic fields, and they can often show us the beginning of trends in determining what to study. The top 3 most popular majors across the Ivy League are Economics (or “Econometrics and quantitative economics”), Computer Science, and History.
These three alone are enough to offer a diverse set of career paths and show prospective employers that you are interested in a particular area. As an example, let’s take a quick look at what careers each of these three can lead.
These mathematics-related degrees open up many opportunities for any student who enjoys handling numbers or looking at the root causes of worldwide situations. An econometrics or economics degree can lead to a career in data science. Students can even use it to become data experts in diverse fields like sports, entertainment, or advertising. Economics degrees can also lend themselves to policy-making or prepare a student for work in research at a bank or another financial institution. Understanding numbers will always be a sought-after skill, and graduates with these degrees have their pick of mathematics-related jobs.
Another popular major across the world currently is computer science. As the modern world becomes ever more online, computer science majors can fit into this space by building, maintaining, and creating databases, apps, websites, and system frameworks that help keep the world connected. Every company needs an online presence, and graduates who are skilled in computer science are in demand worldwide.
The study of history is also a popular major choice. The nature of diagnosing the past can provide insight into modern political situations and can even assist in determining the direction of large companies or organizations. History is also an excellent lead-in to studying law at a postgraduate level in the USA, as the writing skills developed in this major can hone the skills needed to analyze and speak about complex law situations.
There are a variety of popular majors across the USA and some not-so-popular but very niche choices that can help you identify and grow your passion. For instance, Criminology is only available at UPenn among the Ivy League universities, while Harvard has a unique major called Folklore & Mythology. All these choices can lead to careers in the area you are interested in if you apply the time and effort to find them.
However, there are other popular majors across the world currently that many Crimson students are interested in. These include Psychology, Applied Mathematics, Biology, and Engineering, to name but a few. Whatever your passion is, there will be a university with a course that is just right for you. And once you’ve conquered that, the world is your oyster!
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