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What Is a Concentration at an American College?

advice for students
campus life
By Deshan Mendis
Published on August 10, 2021

What does it mean to have a concentration at US universities? Here is everything you need to know.

In front of a large bookshelf, three international students sit at a table with open books and a laptop

As an international student, choosing a field of study you want to specialize in is an important part of your college experience – and can be a big step toward launching your career. At an American college, you will choose a field of study for your degree, known as your major, but you also have the option to specialize even further by closely studying a subtopic within that major. This is known as choosing a concentration. 

A concentration allows you to learn from industry experts, develop specialized knowledge, and gain practical skills that can help you apply for specific roles. Read on to learn more about concentrations, how they fit into your academic plan, their value, examples of concentrations, and how you can declare your concentration.

What Is a Concentration? 

A concentration is a specialized field of study within the major you have chosen. Depending on the university or college where you want to study, you can choose a concentration at both the undergraduate and graduate level. 

When you choose a major (such as biology, engineering, or business), this means you have already selected your field of study, or specialization. By selecting a concentration for your major, you can enhance this specialization more with a much stronger focus on the area that interests you. 

Examples of concentrations include:

  • Business major with a concentration in international finance

  • Computer science major with a concentration in cybersecurity systems

  • Literature major with a concentration in Shakespeare studies

How Does a Concentration Fit Into Your Academic Plan?

Many university programs list concentration options on their department websites, along with prerequisite courses. These required classes are key to helping you develop specific skill sets and knowledge to excel in the field you have chosen. Use these prerequisites in your academic plan to choose the subjects you need to study to work toward your intended concentration. If you start during your undergraduate studies, you may be able to plan out your entire academic journey all the way to your masters.

Keep in mind some US universities and colleges may use ‘concentrations’ as a term to refer to majors, while other American colleges refer to concentrations as specific focuses within a major. If you are not sure about what the terms mean, reach out to your Shorelight advisor and the enrollment officer of the university you are applying to for clarification.

What Are the Benefits of a Concentration?

By choosing a concentration to specialize in, you develop unique advantages that can support your future career prospects. 

Declaring a concentration can help you:

  • Stand out to employers—As concentrations help you explore advanced topics in your field of study, your focused skill set helps you stand out to employers who are looking for particular knowledge for specific jobs.

  • Build a specialized network—When you select a concentration, you will work with and learn from industry experts and specialists. Networking with these specialists helps you build a strong professional network centered around your chosen field. This network can further expand as you collaborate with your fellow students as well.

  • Start working early—With specialized skills from your concentration, you may be able to apply for jobs in your field much earlier compared to students with more general qualifications.

What Are Some Examples of Concentrations?

The concentrations offered within majors differ between US universities and colleges, so keep this in mind when choosing where you apply. Some institutions may have unique concentrations that cannot be found at other universities.

Here are some examples of concentrations available under different majors:

Accounting

Possible Concentrations

Auditing | Cost accounting | Sports accounting

Art

Possible Concentrations

Art history | Art administration | Studio art

Biology

Possible Concentrations

Animal biology | Biochemistry | Neuroscience

Comparative literature

Possible Concentrations

Film studies | Native American literature | Shakespeare studies

Computer science

Possible Concentrations

Artificial intelligence | Information security | Video game design

Engineering

Possible Concentrations

Chemical engineering | Electrical engineering | Mechanical engineering

Law

Possible Concentrations

Criminal law | Cyber law | Financial services regulation

Management

Possible Concentrations

General management | Human resource management | Sustainable business solutions

Music

Possible Concentrations

Ethnomusicology | History of music | Music composition

Psychology

Possible Concentrations

Behavioral psychology | Clinical psychology | Counseling

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Concentration?

Choosing the correct concentration within your major depends on your personal interests and objectives for your future career. It also depends on the universities you are applying to and the types of concentrations they offer you.

When choosing your concentration, consider the following questions:

  • Does it help you work toward your career goals? Your concentration should be relevant to the field you want to work in and help you build the knowledge and skills you need to begin a career in that industry.

  • Will you graduate on time? Each concentration has different types of required courses, and some may take longer to complete. If you do choose a concentration, make sure you are still on track to graduate on time.

  • What type of activities are involved? Some concentrations focus on teaching theory, while others emphasize hands-on learning. The concentration you choose should align with the academic experience you want in your university or college.

  • Does it provide opportunities for work experience? Employers value real-world experience, and concentrations that allow you to develop working experience through internships or practical projects can build your professional portfolio.

How Do You Declare a Concentration?

Each American college and university has its own process for declaring a concentration. Most institutions require you to notify a dean, concentration representative, or an academic advisor. Some may have specialized automated systems in place to handle declaring a concentration, while others require you to fill out and submit certain forms to specific authorities. 

Choosing a concentration can be an exciting part of your American college experience! Remember, your Shorelight advisor is always ready to help you learn more about the concentration declaration process, has resources to help you find the information you need, and more. 

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