Are you headed off to college in the fall? Congratulations! There is a lot you’ll need to prepare to make sure you’re ready. One of the first things you’ll need to consider is what you want to go to college for and the courses that are needed. With that comes an important question, though, what’s the difference between college majors and minors?
In the past, all students who attended college essentially studied the same thing, receiving what was then called a liberal education. Today, we might refer to that education in the same way we refer to the general education requirements that most colleges include before you can study in your major, with sample classes including things like composition and algebra.
In the modern era, colleges still want to impart broad, transferable skills, but they also allow you the ability to dedicate most of your time to classes within your chosen area of study. Because of this, you’ll choose a major, sometime during your first year of study.
That’s something that most students know – but when it comes to choosing a minor, things start to get a little muddled. You’ll want to consider a few key questions when it comes to understanding the difference between a college major and minor – and to choosing the right options for your preferences and goals.
What Is A College Major And Minor?
First, let’s consider what a college major is. A college major broadly refers to your primary area of focus while you are pursuing your bachelor’s degree. For some students, deciding on a major is automatic – perhaps you always knew you wanted to be a teacher, in which case, declaring an education major will be a no-brainer. For other students, it may be a bit more complicated, requiring many years of courses and experimentation for a decision to take place.
What is even more common is for a student to start in one field and then switch once they start taking classes.
Normally, colleges offer academic majors within larger departments at the university. You might find popular divisions in the arts and humanities, business, health and medicine, and STEM disciplines, for example. A STEM-related college, like a College of Engineering, might offer majors in electrical engineering, computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.
You can choose one major or you can double major, taking classes that will allow you to earn two majors that overlap under the same degree.
A college minor, on the other hand, is a secondary focus that you’ll select after your major. You can use your college minor to pursue a personal interest and show that you are valuable to prospective employers. Although a college minor can be incredibly valuable in improving the marketability of your degree, there are some advocates who say that it doesn’t make logistical or financial sense to choose a college minor – it can add more time to your degree.
Do You Pick A Major And A Minor In College?
This can depend on your reasons for going to college and if you’re looking for an easy major or to challenge yourself. In most cases, yes, you’ll pick both. While an undergraduate minor isn’t always required, most students choose a college minor to help them round out a chosen major or career aspirations, to expand their knowledge, or to build their aptitudes and skills in a particular area, such as adding college minors in programming by taking credits in those courses while you are pursuing a computer science major.
Is It Worth Getting A Minor In College?
The jury’s out on whether it’s worth choosing a minor when you’re in college. Some people, as we mentioned before, think an undergraduate minor only serves to add additional time (and expense) to your degree. With college already being so expensive, this can definitely push some off of adding a minor. Additionally, it doesn’t appear on your diploma, which is unlike a major.
However, the value of adding a minor might be more tangible than you think. A minor can add extra detail and dimension to your major, serving as a “bonus point” to help you fill in your resume. It can also allow you to display a particular specialization or get a head start if you plan on pursuing another degree.
Individuals who want to become teachers, for example, often minor in education courses and then major in the topic they want to teach (so a high school science teacher would major in biology and minor in education, for example).
Is A Minor A Degree?
A minor is technically considered a degree, but you won’t get a separate degree for your minor – it doesn’t exist without the major, in other words. Minors generally cover just one field, like a major, and must be awarded at the same time a bachelor’s degree is awarded.
Tips For Selecting A Major In College
Some Majors Are More Profitable Than Others
While money isn’t everything, it’s important to recognize that some majors are simply more lucrative than others. College almost always pays off, but the major you select will play just as big of a role as that big old college diploma hanging on your wall.
For example, if you choose a major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field, you’re going to find that your potential salary is much higher than if you choose a degree in the arts.
Just keep in mind that these popular programs (the ones that are more financially attractive, that is) also tend to be more popular when it comes time for applications. STEM and business, two of the highest-paying disciplines, are also the most challenging and competitive to be admitted to.
Most Popular Degree Programs
Above all, choose a major and minor that you are motivated to study – not options that you feel forced into by friends, parents, or societal pressure.
If you’re stuck, though, it may help for you to be aware of some of the most popular degree programs. The most popular majors in the United States are:
- Visual and performing arts
- Health professions
- Computer and information sciences
- Communication and journalism
- Biology and biomedical sciences
- Social sciences and history
Know That Most College Students Switch Majors At Least Once
Don’t feel pressured to choose a major immediately – and don’t knock yourself if you end up changing your mind. Almost all students change majors at least once, and many of those who don’t often wind up wishing they had.
However, do take some time to do some research before you declare a major – this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Although you can change your major just as easily as you can flip a switch, changing majors often means additional classes – meaning more time to graduate and more expense.
Consider A Double Major
Can’t decide between two separate – though related – majors? Don’t be afraid of the double major! While you may want to avoid double majoring in two completely unrelated areas (it can end up costing you a lot of time and money, as the courses won’t usually overlap) it often doesn’t take much extra time or money to double major. If you like two subjects equally, double majoring is a smart way to avoid having to choose between the two.
Tips For Selecting A Minor
Thinking about adding a minor to your program of study? That’s a great idea. Although some critics argue the value of including a minor, in many cases, it can help give you more specific knowledge in a particular area. You don’t have to have a minor, but it can give you a competitive advantage.
Add Some “Flavor” To Degree Programs
A minor can help add some zest to your major. While a minor will give you extra knowledge in a specific matter, giving you a competitive advantage and allowing you to explore unique areas of interest that don’t exist for a major, it isn’t always required. So don’t feel pressured to choose one if nothing piques your interest!
Choose The Major First
Don’t feel pressured to choose your major right away, but do pick your major before you spend time figuring out the minor. You may find that many of the required courses overlap, which could save you time and money in finishing your degree. Don’t underestimate the minor, either – although it’s not as important as your major, it is a significant opportunity that you should take advantage of.
Select A Minor That Complements Your Major – Or Not
You may consider adding a minor that will help complement your major. For example, if you are pursuing a degree in engineering, a minor in robotics might make sense. You could also have a business major and minor in a foriegn language, which would allow you to build your career in international business negotiations.
Adding a minor to your major is a great way to round up your studies and to further customize your degree. However, it doesn’t have to be. Just as many students use the minor as a way to explore a totally unrelated area of study. So if your major is Political Science and you really want that music minor, we say – go for it!
College Majors And Minors: Don’t Neglect The Soft Skills
When it comes to understanding the differences between college majors and minors, you might feel daunted by all the options that are out there. But don’t panic. Although some universities require students to apply directly for admission into the major they choose to study, most won’t ask you to declare a major until your second or third year of college. You have time to decide!
Don’t worry about making the “wrong” choice, either. Although degrees and majors differ in their potential profitability, remember that you’ll receive a tangible benefit regardless of which major you pursue. That’s because all college majors, though differing in their “hard” skills (these are things like technical aptitude and specific, discipline-focused skills), all offer extensive training in soft skills.
Soft skills are things like creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking. These are skills that are valuable regardless of the career you ultimately decide to pursue – and they’ll not only be relevant in any field but they will always retain their value and can be adapted over time.
So while knowing the differences between college majors and minors – and choosing the right ones – is important, rest assured that earning a degree is a smart choice no matter what path you decide to follow.