Are you considering earning a degree from a college or university? Whether you plan to take classes in person or want to enroll in an online program, it’s important to understand the terminology used most in higher education. Few concepts are more important than your college major and college minor, which often define academic experiences and help shape career pathways for those pursuing work in particular disciplines.
There are some differences between a college major and a minor that all prospective students should be aware of. Becoming familiar with what makes these designations distinct will ensure you find and enroll in an appropriate degree program or programs for your associate or bachelor's degree. Understanding the college minor or major is most useful for undergraduate students early in their college career, as higher-level degrees use concentrations instead. Ideally, your selection(s) should always reflect your ultimate personal and career path plans.
A college major refers to a structured course of study for undergraduate students within a certain subject areas such as business, biology, international relations, foreign language, political science, graphic design, nursing, etc. Specific majors will give students in-depth knowledge in that field during their college experience to prepare them for a graduate degree in their primary field or various successful career paths. There are hundreds of major subjects to choose from, making it easy for students to tailor learning experiences to fit their career goals.
Programs vary, but most necessitate that at least one-third to one-half of classes taken relate to the chosen major. For a bachelor’s degree, this generally equates to about 30 credit hours, or ten classes. All remaining course requirements should fall under general education courses and electives. General education courses include a range of subjects and are meant to provide learners with a strong knowledge base that can be applied to almost any profession.
Colleges and universities typically require students to designate a major before graduation. While every institution is different, many do recommend waiting until sophomore year to designate a focus area. This gives students plenty of time to explore various fields prior to making this important decision. It is also possible to switch majors. In fact, this is relatively common, as students decide to pursue other interests as they develop.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that some colleges and universities allow students to major in two fields at the same time. This is a particularly common practice when the areas of study are similar or overlap in some way. Double majoring, however, may require taking significantly more classes and can impact graduation timelines.
Academic majors can significantly impact career opportunities. Many career fields have definite education requirements that must be met prior to qualifying for employment. Nursing, accounting, and engineering students, for example, must dedicate a lot of time and effort to mastering very specific skills. While useful in their respective areas, this knowledge may not be as applicable to other fields.
Selecting a major is not the same as choosing a job, however. While some majors direct learning towards a specific trade, others provide broader learning opportunities that can lead to several different positions and professions after graduation. A biology major, for example, can pursue employment as a biological technician, health communications specialist, pharmaceutical sales representative, or biology teacher. Most majors also provide strong foundations for more specialized training after graduation.
It’s important to realize that some major selections are unlikely to lead to employment in which the degree is particularly relevant. Psychology and English are two good examples of this. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees in these fields rarely find subject-focused jobs, as most employment opportunities require candidates to earn master’s degrees or higher. In these cases, graduates will either need to pursue further education or find work that is not related to a specific major. Is getting a college degree worth it?
Academic minor degrees are secondary fields of study. While majors are more significant and dictate more coursework, minors can also be important. Minors allow students to take classes and train in other disciplines that they may otherwise have little to no involvement with. This can be particularly beneficial for those with many different interests or who want to explore potential backup career options. It’s important to realize that minors are ultimately subordinate to majors, making the latter much more significant.
Unlike designating a major, earning a minor is not required by colleges or universities. Students should still be very intentional regarding this decision, however, as it can impact future career prospects and will likely expand how they think about their careers and life in general.
As with major selections, colleges and universities have set frameworks of required courses that must be completed to earn minors. The amount of choice given to students tends to vary significantly from institution to institution, with some schools only providing a broader explanation of the types of courses necessary instead of an explicit list. Those interested in designating a minor should always review expectations thoroughly and consider how any additional classwork may impact graduation timelines.
Ultimately, earning colleges minor can be worth it for students who want to gain knowledge and training in secondary subjects related to their majors. Minors can play a significant role in finding employment after graduation. Unsurprisingly, many students choose subordinate disciplines of study that supplement their primary fields. This allows them to gain specialization in complementary areas that may set them apart from other job candidates. In fact, earning a minor is one great way to make yourself more attractive to potential employers and gain employment faster after graduating.
Some of the most worthwhile minors related to career prospects include:
While minors often complement majors, they don’t have to. As previously mentioned, students can use minors to learn more about the things they are interested in as well. This is particularly relevant for individuals who enjoy pursing various hobbies. A theatre minor, for example, is an excellent choice for people who plan to participate in community theater productions after graduation, though it may have nothing to do with your primary area of learning.
A minor can also serve as a great way to attain skills that may prove useful in daily life. Many of the related courses are likely to help students gain knowledge and develop abilities that can be applied personally. Someone with a deaf uncle, for example, may personally benefit from minoring in American Sign Language.
It’s also worth mentioning that some colleges and universities may offer certain disciplines as minors only. This likely means that the institution does not have enough courses for a student to major in the given subject. In these cases, minors serve as ways for students to get the education they want without having to transfer to different schools.
Deciding to earn a minor may or may not impact your career, depending on several factors. Primarily, it’s contingent upon the field you plan to enter. Minors, especially complementary ones, are considered great assets in some careers, while they ultimately mean much less in others. Obtaining a minor does, however, generally indicate that you have gone above and beyond the minimum requirements for graduation. Putting in this effort can impress potential employers, especially if the knowledge and skills you acquired can be applied in useful ways.
Areas of particular interest are cyber security and business. Almost every industry depends on these fields for success. This means that graduates with minors in either of these subjects may move forward with their careers more quickly.
Some employers will care about minors more than others. This also varies by industry and the personal opinions of the hiring managers in charge of selecting candidates. Minors will draw the most positive attention when they are somehow related to the majors and/or positions being applied for. A hiring committee in charge of selecting a new high school English teacher is likely to look favorably on a candidate who majored in English education and minored in counseling. This is because the knowledge and skills acquired as part of the counseling minor are likely to be extremely beneficial in the classroom.
However, it’s worth noting that having multiple minors will not necessarily result in a more impressive resume. Having too many can actually draw negative attention from prospective employers. While not necessarily the case, it can indicate that you are fickle. Most industries look for dependability in candidates and hiring managers may be wary of individuals who appear more likely to change their minds often.
College minors will vary in difficulty. Every option will require work and attention, but some may suit certain students better than others. Factors that may impact how simple minors are include number of required courses, average GPA of enrolled students, and the amount weekly study hours needed to pass.
Some of the easiest minors are:
It’s also important to realize that simplicity is relative. What is effortless for you may be almost impossible for another. For this reason, it’s imperative that you consider your personal strengths and habits before selecting a minor. The subjects you are likely to find easiest are those you have significant interest and natural talent in.
The overall value of college minors also varies from subject to subject. Every option will provide opportunities to learn helpful knowledge and skills, but some are likely to help in the professional world more than others. Factors that may impact how beneficial a minor is includes prevalence of easily transferrable skills and potential return on investment.
Some of the best minors, in light of these qualities, are:
It’s also important to realize that not all minors are ideal for all students. Your selection should correspond with your personal interests or career goals, which will be different than your peers. Take care deciding which subject(s) will suit your personal and professional needs best.
Many schools, colleges, and universities allow students to work towards two majors at the same time during their academic career. This is often referred to as double majoring. Depending on your situation and what academic major you choose, it may be better to earn a minor or double major. Some of the most important factors that should impact your decision include graduation timeline, professional competition, academic opportunities, student interests, and ultimate career aspirations.
In general, it takes most full-time students earning a bachelor's degree approximately four years to complete a single major. While adding a second major does not double this timeframe, it’s still a sizable commitment. Some required courses will count toward requirements for both majors, as will many electives, but you will have to take all major-related classes. In most cases, this will take longer than adding a minor. If, however, the two majors have a lot of overlap, it’s probably worth the effort. This is especially true for students who already have a significant amount of college credits earned during high school.
Double majors also look more impressive than minors on resumes. They often draw more attention from prospective employers and graduate school program recruiters. If you know the competition in your field is high, earning a double major can help you stand out among other candidates.
Additionally, your interests play a major role. As with minors, many students choose to earn another major because they have a significant passion for the subject matter. And earning a second major may be a better option vs changing majors partway through and changing your graduation plan; an academic advisor can help you figure out is a second major in a new academic subject area or a major shift will be a hinderance or if a minor is a better option. The level of your interest can indicate whether it’s worth designating the extra coursework as a minor or a major. Minors are most appropriate when exploring an area you’re curious about, whereas majors or a secondary specialization is optimal when you want to completely immerse yourself in a field.
Ultimately, your decision should come down to what aligns best with your personal and career goals. Where do you see yourself in the future? What type of work and/or hobbies do you plan to pursue? Choosing to double major is no small task, so it’s imperative that you take great care when making your decision.
Students can also choose to pursue college certificates. There are many different certificate programs available, but most are designed to offer accelerated learning experiences. These are ideal for individuals who want to gain knowledge and training in specific areas but don’t want to commit to completing a major degree program. Every college and university is different, some offer options at the undergraduate level and others provide graduate credit. Alternatively, the resulting certificate may not be worth any academic credit, instead simply indicating particular vocational or professional skills have been mastered.
Certificate programs generally take a few months to complete, although some can take more than a year. The length of time necessary and amount of coursework required varies significantly depending on the field and level of study. Online learning options tend to be quite flexible, making them ideal for current professionals seeking additional credentials.
As with minors and double majors, undergraduate and graduate certificates can help set students apart in the job market. This is particularly true when the completed program deals with a specialty area within a field, making candidates even more valuable in the workplace. Choosing to supplement an existing degree with a certificate can lead to more promotion opportunities, higher pay, and more job security.
It’s important to realize, however, that a certificate rarely functions as a replacement for a degree. Most professions expect candidates to have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. While there are some jobs available to individuals with only certificates, opportunities for advancement will likely be limited.