July 28, 2016
College Majors and Minors
What is a Minor?
A minor is a specialization or concentration that may or may not complement your college major. For example, if you are majoring in Biology, you may choose to minor in a related field, such as Chemistry, or an unrelated field, such as Spanish. Minoring in a completely different field can help you gain knowledge or skills in a field distinct from your major. In a sense, a minor is like a “mini” major. Generally speaking, students who elect to do a minor have to take 4-6 classes in the chosen subject. This is about half of the amount required for a major, which typically requires between 8-12 classes.
A minor gives you an edge.
Pursuing a minor allows you to enhance your major studies and develop a side passion. It gives you an edge intellectually by introducing you to new ideas and, depending on what you choose, it can give you a professional edge, too. That extra line on your resume shows potential employers a few things. If your minor is related to your field, it can show potential employers that you have a depth of knowledge that sets you apart from other recent graduates in your intended industry. A minor unrelated to your field may show employers that you are curious and multi-faceted. Either way, a minor indicates that you are willing to pursue a rigorous workload and commit to finishing what you start.
Ask yourself if and why you want to minor.
Ask yourself exactly why you wish to minor in a subject. Is this a subject you love but couldn’t pursue as a major for whatever reason? Will this minor make you more competitive in your field? What benefits could this minor bring to your career in the short and long-term? For example, do you want to improve upon your foreign language skills to broaden your post-grad horizon? Or, do you want to learn how to code, run a small business, or obtain some other skillset you cannot learn from your major? Your minor can help you achieve your goals, but you must know what those goals are.
Do your research, talk to your faculty advisor, and take at least one sample class in your minor to help you make this important decision.
Assess the feasibility of taking on a minor.
You may have the interest to do a minor but not the time and energy. Before committing to a minor, meet with your advisor to go over the requirements. Minors often are best for students with broad majors in business or the liberal arts. They also work well for students on track for career paths in competitive fields. An engineering major, for instance, may have less time and reason to acquire a minor than an English major because their major demands might be stricter and their career path is less competitive due to the nation’s shortage of engineers. Majors in the hard and practical sciences tend to be very structured with little room for choice or flexibility.
Pro tip: One effective way to pick up a minor is to “double dip.” A single class may be required by both your major and your minor. By taking that class, you fulfill a requirement in both programs without putting in extra time or effort. This tactic generally is most feasible for students who choose a minor similar to their major. A student majoring in French may be able to minor in, say, European Studies or Translation Studies, simply by taking an additional class or two beyond what is required for the major.
Another consideration is money. You must figure out if you can afford what may amount to an extra semester of work. Most minors require five or six classes, or about 15 to 18 credit hours, devoted to that area of study. If your major and minor course requirements do not overlap at all and you do not have AP, IB, or community college credits, you will have to be very wise about structuring your elective classes. Otherwise, you almost certainly will spend extra time in college.
Declaring your minor.
After you’ve taken a sample class or two and made your decision, you may think you’re ready to declare your minor. Make sure you know exactly how to do that. Every college or university has a different process for declaring a minor. You may have to meet with your advisor or the head of the program. You might even have to officially apply for the program, similar to the way you may have applied for your major in the first place. No matter what, you will almost certainly have to fill out paperwork to make your minor official—but this investment of your time, money, effort and brainpower can make a huge difference in your academic career and professional life.