Q&A on Majors & Careers for International Students

We invited international students to join a conversation on majors and careers with advisors from the Berick Center for Student Advising (CSA), the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), and the Center for Career Education (CCE), recognizing that each office provides unique and valuable advice to students as they explore and make decisions about majors and careers.  

These advisors work closely together on a cross-campus team, the International Resource Team, led by Multicultural Affairs in partnership with the International Students Advisors Board (ISAB).  Highlights of this robust and rich conversation are below in Q&A format.  

QUESTION #1: I’m interested in so many subjects or I don’t know what I want to study.  Where do I start? 

CSA: Ideally you will pursue a major that you love and are good at and you will move on to a career that draws on your learning and experiences at Columbia.  Your first step is to speak with your academic advisor to explore courses and majors. Together you can create and constantly update a plan that takes into account course sequencing or major requirements so that your options remain open. As you take courses, you’ll see if you like or dislike subjects, which will help you to clarify your major choices.

CCE: We complement your work with your academic advisor by adding information about career fields, employers, and jobs. We have data to share on what alumni have gone on to pursue by major.  Additionally, we’ll add the employer perspective in terms of their criteria for internships and jobs, including any relevant classes, experiences, and employment authorization requirements.  We also help you carve out a plan of exploration, networking, and experience as you move along in your studies. 

ISSO: We further complement your major and career decision-making by working with you to make sure you maintain your student status, clarifying expectations with respect to full-time enrollment, work or research on campus, employment authorization for off-campus internships and jobs process through CPT or OPT. 

QUESTION #2: I’m a liberal arts student.  Should I do a STEM major? 

ISSO: The federal government releases a list of majors that are STEM appropriate and Columbia then aligns this list with its majors. We can confirm whether a major has a STEM designation and what that could mean for additional employment authorization post your OPT.  Currently, alumni are eligible to apply for up to 24 months of STEM extension if their employer is enrolled in a Government program called E-Verify.  Always, check the ISSO website as we keep up with immigration policies that impact international students. 

QUESTION #3: I want to get a summer internship. What do I need to consider as an international student?   

CCE: We encourage you to consider your class year, where you want to intern (many students want to go home) and what you’d like to do.  As an international student, you have to consider employer requirements and employment authorization if you plan to stay in the US. Our database of jobs and internships, LionSHARE, has thousands of internships. We work with you to effectively search for, apply to, interview for, and make decisions that align with your goals. Also, check out our student experiences page to read student reflections on their internships.     

CSA: As an international student, you may be eligible for employment authorization for your summer internship in the US under Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which requires that you register for a fieldwork/praxis course and receive academic credit tied to your internship. We can speak with you about this course and eligibility.   

ISSO: We encourage you to learn about employment authorization early so that you can plan out your summers and post-graduation plans if you want to work in the US.  Don’t jump to process employment authorization (OPT) before you have considered your short-term and long-term goals. You can work with your career and academic advisors to develop your major and career goals and speak with us about the necessary link between your studies and your employment to process both curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). We have extensive details about CPT and OPT processing requirements and timelines on our website and can strategize with you about applying for these benefits.   

QUESTION #4: Columbia is so decentralized.  What advice do you have for me as I want to make informed decisions?

CSA:  Try to get information from the best source, i.e. the department or office that oversees the area in question. We have CSA, CCE and the ISSO here today as we all speak with each other and have the information you need that connects to majors and careers for international students. Be wary of generalizing information from peers, as their situations may be different from yours and the advice given highly specific to them.  

ISSO:  Do your research on the ISSO website and read the emails we send you. We give you the information but you have to read it to understand and move forward. Our appointments are more productive when you’re informed.

CCE:  We encourage you to connect with us early to learn about options and resources that will help you create and pursue your goals. Our data shows that international students get internships and jobs, so hang in there! We at CSA, ISSO and CCE all are committed to helping you navigate and thrive at Columbia.