Thursday, February 19, 2015

Admissions Data: What Are the Most Popular Majors Among International Students in the U.S.?

By Xiao Lu
World Education Services

When you’re picking a major for your American or Canadian study abroad degree, there are many questions you need to ask yourself. Does this major appeal to your interests? Does it lead to a solid career path? How difficult will it be to find a job in your home country with this degree? It’s a decision you have to make for yourself, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look at what your peers are doing. In this post, WES Advisor breaks down the most popular majors among international students in the U.S. and explores how country of origin affects students’ fields of study.

What majors do international students choose? 
The latest Open Doors data report tells us that business/management, math/computer science, and engineering are the three most popular majors among international students in the U.S. – 51 percent of all international students in America major in one of those fields.

Over the past four years, the biggest growth among any major was intensive English, which grew 67 percent. More and more international students are enrolling in ESL programs as a bridge to adapt to the language and culture in the U.S. Students feel more confident about applying to other degree programs after they’ve studied ESL. Fine and applied arts also saw a spike with a 43 percent growth over the same time span.

Mathematics, computer science, and engineering majors grew 50 and 34 percent, respectively, as STEM fields continue to boom. The U.S. government has worked on policies to attract international STEM students such as flexible visas. STEM students are eligible to extend their OPT for up to 29 months, or even more. The emergence of U.S. high-tech industries has driven demand in the STEM labor market.

China and India
How can a student’s country of origin affect their choice? We compared the two leading source countries for international students, China and India, and examined the differences.

STEM majors are the most popular choice among Chinese students. Engineering (20 percent), mathematics and computer science (11 percent), and physical life science (9 percent) make up 40 percent of Chinese international student degrees. Business and management is also huge among Chinese students (28 percent), and its popularity is growing. China’s domestic demand for business management professionals has expanded in light of globalization. The popular business degrees among international students have also broadened from finance, accounting, and MBAs to include marketing, business analytics and more.

STEM majors also dominate among Indian students, which is nothing new. Three out of four Indian international students in the U.S. major in STEM. Among these STEM majors, engineering leads with 38 percent. Meanwhile, business majors have declined from 15.3 percent in 2009 to 12 percent in 2014.

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Major?

  1. Career: Studying abroad in the U.S. requires lots of time and financial investment. Think about what value a major can bring to your future career development. What’s the average salary in the industry? How do you envision your career path? Can you see yourself in this field? Reach out to alumni or your seniors for more insight.
  2. Visa: If you want to pursue your career in the U.S. after you’ve finished your degree, STEM majors may be the best option for you. The 29-plus months of OPT status granted to STEM grads are absolutely an advantage over other majors.
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Xiao Lu is a marketing associate with the WES Student Advisor team. She produces WES Advisor’s webinars and provides data-driven analytic support for the platform. Xiao was once an international student from China and holds a master’s in marketing intelligence from Fordham University. She enjoys traveling and her life in the U.S.

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