Many international students I know didn't have a clear career goal when they decided to study in the U.S. Some of them were overwhelmed when faced with what can seem like thousands of academic majors that they knew little about.
Luckily, many U.S. universities don't require students to declare a major as soon as they are admitted to school. Students generally have two years to explore their interests before needing to declare their specific area of study.
Choosing a major can be as important as choosing a school in the U.S. Making a decision that could change your path in life is not an easy task, so avoid making these common mistakes.
1. Following the crowd: Many students see majors as falling into one of two categories: popular and unpopular.
Popular majors include those that will lead to high-paying jobs with relatively bright job prospects. Some international students choose the ones labeled as popular majors because they assume that the more people that chose them, the better the majors were.
This could be why many international students prefer majors such as economics, computer science and accounting. My suggestion is rather than choosing whatever is popular, use the first two years in school to find out what your favorite subject is and what kind of person you want to become, and then follow your heart.
[Check out ways to pick the right college major.]
2. Considering salary over passion: It's hard for students not to care about their future salaries, especially international students, many of who are supported by their parents financially while they attend school in the U.S.
Students will likely spend much of their lives devoted to the fields they choose. It is understandable that students would choose majors that lead to high-paying jobs.
But before doing so, consider if you really possess the willpower to spend several years studying or working in a field you don't like. Your interest in a subject could be the best teacher.
I've encountered some international students who chose majors that they disliked. Some of them chose certain majors because their parents asked them to, while others were swayed by potential salaries. As it turned out, they had less interest in what they learned and as a result, performed poorly in school.
[Build job skills by volunteering while an international student.]
3. Worrying too much about job prospects: Many international students I know researched job prospects pertaining to their majors. Many shied away from those majors with limited job opportunities.
However, international students should not be overly concerned about job prospects. Before I declared my major, many people told me I should rethink majoring in journalism because in their eyes, my major had a bleak future.
[Learn where international students can find support on campus.]
Instead of being frightened by these warnings, I believe that I made the right choice because I have always been passionate about becoming a journalist regardless of its job prospects. I believe it's a candidate's quality and skills that matter in the job market.
Going abroad is the first step in chasing your dream. The moment you decide to pursue that dream as an international student, you should follow your heart.
The reason that you are in the U.S. is to do what you want to do and be the person you want to become. When you have the opportunity to decide your own fate, have the courage to choose your own life.
Jia Guo, from China, graduated from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism after transferring from Shandong University of Political Science and Law in Jinan, China, where she studied law. Guo is currently a graduate journalism student at New York University.