For the past several years, we have often heard students returning from overseas universities say, “I should have not chosen that major before going abroad”.
Chen graduated from a Chinese university that specialized in international studies and majored in journalism. After graduation, he went to a British university to obtain a Masters of International Journalism.
Now it’s graduation time again, and he regretted, “I should have not chosen International Journalism before going abroad.”
Why does this so often happen? First, there is a large and growing number of Chinese students studying journalism-related majors in British universities, which made Xiaochen’s study-abroad experience exactly the same as the one he attended s in undergraduate school; Second, with regard to the master course, the curriculum design is very similar to his undergraduate studies. It’s more like a compressed version of undergraduate courses, which is not very helpful for his professional growth. Lastly, his MA courses focus more on the theoretical knowledge rather than international reporting practice, so it was not significantly helpful for his reporting skills. Now, after one full year, Chen’s personal and professional experience is not much different from one year ago when he first graduated in China.
Chen is not just a single case, there are many others just like him. Why? One important reason is that those students didn’t choose their major seriously. Many of them only conceive a general study option, say Media, and never conducted considerable research on it.
So how can we avoid this awkward and even costly situation? In addition to tuition fees, scholarship, living cost, university ranking, major ranking etc., here are factors that you may need to consider:
1) What is your academic interest?
I want to highlight this first because your academic interest may be a little different from your career plan. Your favorite major may be unable to guarantee you a promising job or competitive salary. It’s materialistic but you should consider it. The best situation is that you can perfectly combine your interest and career plan. But when that’s impossible, you might put your interest as your top priority because it will always be the most important.
2) Should I change another major?
It’s so natural to change your major if you are interested in another major. But ask yourself, is this new major is your best interest? Many students thought that they were interested in some new major but when they truly studied those courses, the interest had totally disappeared.
To avoid this situation, you may read one relevant textbook about your new major before you make that decision. For example, if you want to study economics, then find a book about microeconomics or take a related online course at Coursera. It can not only give you a chance to study in English but also test if economics is your real interest. (Coursera is a very helpful website for applicants and we will have another article about how to use that website well. So stay tuned.)
3) Will the new major supplement my academic background?
Particularly for masters degrees, choosing a major that is the same as your undergraduate study is meaningless because it is essentially a review of your knowledge. So the best situation is that the graduate study can supplement your academic background or extend your current knowledge. This is exactly what Chen overlooked.
4) Does my choice of major have any special requirements?
This is particularly important for students who might want to change their major. Some graduate majors at some institutes require students to have relevant academic background or professional experience. If applicants don’t take note of that, they will waste their application fees in vain.
5) Internship opportunity
Some universities promise to provide an internship for their students and a good internship opportunity can not only help you to enhance your knowledge but also can also expand your resume, which will be tremendously helpful for your future job. In addition, in some European countries, good internship opportunities may help you to find a decent job in that country. So for students who want to get a green card, you should take that into consideration, instead of only focusing on the university ranking.
6) Is my major full of Chinese students?
If you are worried that your classmates are 99% Chinese, then you should ask admission office for the relevant information. Please note that hot majors always buzz with Chinese students, but some universities will control the proportion to ensure cultural diversity.
7) Did you talk to current students of that major?
The most direct way to see if the new major is suitable for you is to talk to those current students directly.
There are many ways to do that. You can contact to the admissions office and ask them to introduce students to you (most universities would be more than than happy to do that). You can even choose the student you want to talk to: Chinese or foreigners, girls or boys? You can either contact them through email or talk to them on Skype (a good way to practice your oral English).
You might benefit more than you expect from this. For example, some universities will provide extra scholarship opportunities after you enroll; some professors would like to help students to publish their papers in academic journals (particularly suitable for doctoral applicants). All this information is sometimes hard to find on the internet but you can easily get it when talking to students. Besides, you may develop friendships with foreigners even before you arrive at your university. Not bad!
You can also turn to social network websites to find fellow students: Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. All these websites are helpful for you to find a friendly student.
Now let’s go back to see what Chen might do if he could go back in time?
First, Chen should consider his academic interest and career plan. His career aspiration is to become a global journalist, so he should choose a major that can help him to move closer to that goal. What kind of qualities does a respected global journalist have? If Chen had talked to a media insider, he would know that a good journalist in international reporting should be equipped with: Storytelling skills, English skills, knowledge base of international politics, and networking skills. After his undergraduate study, he has already mastered his journalistic skills and English skills, so what he should do is to gain some knowledge of international politics and establish his personal contacts.
From this perspective, he should consider the following majors:
- International Politics
- International Relations
- International Political Economy
- International Security and Anti-terrorism
- Regional Studies (Lain America Studies, European Studies…)
- Comparative Politics
Second, Chen should test if this major is suitable for him. Go find a textbook or attend a relevant online course. If he is really interested in international reporting, he will probably enjoy his book or course, at least a little bit. Besides, since politics-related majors and media-related majors all belong to social science which always encourages students to take inter-disciplinary courses, Chen will feel welcomed by the majors above.
What’s more, Chen should decide which university he wants to go. Considering that he wanted to study in Europe, there are two cities that are best for his study: London (financial center) and Brussels (headquarters of many organizations such as EU, NATO… ). Here, he will not only acquire knowledge but also contacts because universities in those two cities will make it easier to invite officials in EU or NATO or think tanks to present lectures for their students. If Chen can get an intern opportunity in one of those organizations, that will be very helpful for his future job prospects. It is noteworthy that many foreign students from all majors above will go to media after graduation.
Lastly, if Chen applied for the majors above, he will find out that most of his classmates will be westerners, rather than Chinese students (as many would be in a journalism major), and he would face less competition than applying for Journalism because that is one of the hottest major categories every year.