College Majors for Teens Who Want to Learn About Different Cultures

I recently posted an article on the blog that lists 18 different jobs a culturally sensitive teen might enjoy having after graduating from college. However, I know that many teens struggle to even decide which major they should select when they are in college. So, I created this post to help college-bound teens learn about some of the programs of study offered at colleges and universities here in United States that might appeal to students who want to learn about different cultures while pursuing a bachelor’s degree. But, before listing the majors, I want to share a few benefits of selecting these kinds of programs in the first place. (FYI, this post contains affiliate links that allow me to earn income from qualifying purchases.)

For starters, a degree program that focuses on different cultures will help a young person learn a lot about various countries or continents, as well as the people who call those places home. And increasing one’s knowledge base about different cultures increases one’s cultural intelligence. Similarly, learning more about people from different cultures can make developing empathy for humankind in general easier. Does your child talk to you about wanting to make a difference in the world? If so, encourage them to learn about the connections and similarities between–as well as the unique aspects of–different cultures. They may find it challenging to make our multicultural world a better place if they don’t try to better understand the people who inhabit it.

Michelle Reyes, author of Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures, also believes it’s important for young people in our country to learn about other cultures. She said, “It’s so important for teens and young adults to understand there’s no one way to be American. There is no one singular American culture. With over 300 million people of different races and ethnicities, the United States is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.” Reyes, an Indian American who is teaching Spanish and German to her two young children, added, “Young people who grasp and appreciate this reality will be able to better value the people and cultures around them, from incoming Afghan refugees to their Asian American neighbors who have been here for decades.”

In addition, while culture-focused undergraduate programs can help young people develop cultural empathy or cultural understanding, they also could help them be more attractive job candidates, as well as more successful employees, once they have secured a job. Why? Because these types of programs focus on preparing young people to adapt well in cross-cultural or global contexts and, in essence, increase the likelihood that they will be productive or effective in those contexts.

So, what college majors exist for young people who want to learn about different cultures? One major is Global Studies, which often includes courses in cultural anthropology, geography and ministry, among others. Offered at multiple institutions, such as Taylor University in Upland, IN, and Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, MI, this major helps individuals be prepared for careers in international service, international business, and other fields, too.

A program in Intercultural Studies could be an ideal one for students who think they might be interested in working in international development, refugee services, relief work, or other professions that would allow them to help make life better for others. Belhaven University in Jackson, MS, and John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR, are a couple of universities in the U.S. that offer this major, which may include courses about diversity, social policy, and intercultural communication.

Students who are fascinated by the idea of learning about other cultures through classes in economics, politics, and sociology should consider pursuing a degree in International Studies, particularly if they believe they would enjoy having a career in international trade, non-profit administration, or private education. If this sounds like your son or daughter, they may want to add Indiana University at Bloomington; St. Louis University in St. Louis, MO; or North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, to the list of schools to which they will apply.

Your teen could also choose an in-depth program of study that examines the history and experiences of groups of people who have descended from one particular continent or geographical region. These programs can help students be prepared to work in many different fields, such as journalism, the arts, and community development, and they usually include courses in literature, history, as well as the languages that are spoken in those areas. Below are several options to consider.

To learn about people with African ancestry, your teen could pursue a bachelor’s degree through the African American Studies program at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL; the African Studies program at Yale University in New Haven, CT; or the program in African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. If they want to learn about ethnic groups with Asian ancestry, they can check out the Asian American Studies program at UCLA; the East Asian Studies program at Columbia University in NYC; or the South Asian Studies program at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. And, if your teen has an interest in obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, or Hispanic Studies, they could look at programs offered at Baylor University in Waco, TX; University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; or DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, respectively.

If, after looking at established bachelor’s degree programs around the country, your teen still doesn’t know which college major they want to choose, that is okay! Perhaps an Individualized- or Independent Major would be best for them. At some schools, this option might be known as an Interdisciplinary Studies program, which is what the nationally-ranked multidisciplinary program at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, is called. While the titles of these types of programs vary among institutions, they all have one thing in common: they make it possible for a student to craft a personalized, unique course of study.

For example, a Cornell University alum created a Cultural Food Studies major through its Independent Major program by taking courses in Anthropology, Psychology, and Food Science, among others. (Because of my fascination with cultural foods, that sounds like a very interesting major!) So, if a college or university that your teen wants to apply to doesn’t offer a degree program that resonates with them, a program like this one could keep it in the running when the time comes to submit the admissions application.

I wish you and your teen all the best as you go through the college search process, and I hope this post will serve as a helpful resource as your teen researches different colleges, as well as when the time comes for them to pick a major. So, be sure to print it out and share it with them and any other high schooler you know who has entered into this important phase of life.

Note: Inclusion of specific degree programs in this post is for informational purposes only and does not signify endorsement of any particular program or institution.)


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