What is the Difference Between Major and Minor Degrees?

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Since education is essential for every career, people should consider what the best educational training to prepare them for life is. Not all careers require college degrees, but professions such as law, medicine, and accounting require a major in those disciplines. However, many entry-level positions do not require extensive training, and many people choose to begin their careers with the minimum educational requirements. In addition, many people select minor degrees that will complement their major degrees. In order to be successful, students should carefully plan their educational paths to their life careers.

Determining the Curriculum

Each institution of higher learning determines the requirements for its degree programs. However, many areas, such as nursing and other medical professions, require that practitioners are certified. In addition, various accrediting agencies and the United States Department of Education determine some of the requirements. To be accredited, the institution must offer certain courses with a minimum number of class hours. In addition, some disciplines require hands-on experience at local hospitals, clinics, and other facilities.

Major degree programs are designed to give students maximum training in a particular discipline, and corresponding minor degree programs complement related major degree programs. Associate degrees are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions, but they are completely separate from minor degree programs. Regardless of the major or minor program selected, each student must complete the required prerequisites before enrolling in any major classes.

Nearly all majors consist of 120 credits. Even those majors with extensive prerequisite courses, like engineering, nursing, and business, hover around the 120-credit mark. This ensures uniformity across colleges and universities and ensures that students can graduate in four years, if they plan carefully. The 120 credits are divided into general education courses that are required for all students regardless of major and discipline-specific classes that involve intensive study.

The Major Degree Programs

When students know their career paths, they may select a major degree program. The major program will require courses that are discipline intensive. An example of courses required for accounting majors may be found at Rutgers University Accounting Major Curriculum.

This major degree program is designed for people who wish to be accountants or Certified Public Accountants. The CPA must have a Bachelor of Science degree and pass the CPA examination. The accounting major curriculum prepares students for this examination.

While some majors prepare students for licensing examinations like the one for accounting, most majors are built to fully prepare students to qualify for entry-level professional positions within specific industries and career fields. Major programs range from specific career paths to general industries and professions. For example, both elementary education and accounting are specific majors that prepare students for a singular career, while business or biology can lead to a wide range of career options.

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Most Popular Major Degree Programs

It’s common for larger public and private institutions to have several hundred majors for students to choose from. In total, there are nearly 2,000 majors across the college and university landscape, which means that every student should be able to find something that suits their passions and career interests. According to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, the top five most popular undergraduate majors are business, nursing, psychology, biology, and engineering.

Selecting a Major

Consider the Institution when Choosing a Major
Many students get caught up in overall institutional rankings. They are important, but many colleges and universities specialize in specific programs. The overall school may not be as highly ranked as the institution down the street, but they may have one of the best English departments in the country. Or perhaps the large state university has an excellent biology program, but you prefer the culture and feel of a small liberal arts institution. These are all critical factors when considering a major and should not be overlooked. Don’t focus solely on rankings. Context matters here.

Financial Aid and Scholarships
Cost plays a major role in deciding what to major in. The school that may have the best accounting program may be too costly, or you may be pleasantly surprised to find out the expensive private school has tons of financial aid to offset the out-of-pocket costs. Whatever the case may be, it’s wise to consider what kind of aid and scholarship opportunities are available.

Find Your Passion
Your college major will have a huge impact on your college experience. Students that know what they’re passionate about can start taking courses within their major as soon as their first semester. Students that are undecided or have a list of possible majors should explore classes that sound interesting and may help them develop skills and areas of knowledge they find intriguing. Because bachelor’s degrees are 120 credits, even undecided students have plenty of time to hone in on what interests them, through various courses, campus clubs, and the like.

It’s Not All About the Money (But Money is Still Important)
While salaries and potential earnings are important, students should not use money as the only metric in deciding on a major. Students should take the time to investigate earnings, but they should also investigate other critical aspects of potential careers, such as work expectations, professional development opportunities, advancement opportunities, qualities needed to succeed, and more.

Know How Far the Bachelor’s Degree Will Take You
This is an important factor that many students overlook when deciding on a major. Many careers only require bachelor’s degrees, without the need to go back to school to obtain a graduate degree. But it’s becoming more common that some career paths require a master’s degree, or at least some post-bachelor degree coursework.

Utilize Campus Resources
Most campuses have career counselors and alumni that are more than willing to speak to students about specific majors and careers. Career counselors can provide students with interest inventories and questionnaires that highlight potential majors and career paths based on survey results. Moreover, career centers have access to upperclassmen and alumni that can provide valuable insight to help make informed decisions.

You Can Always Change Your Major
While choosing a major can seem overwhelming, it’s easy to forget that you can always change your mind and switch majors. It’s quite common and most of the time will not set you back from graduating on time.

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Minor Degree Programs

Students with a minor in accounting, for instance, are prepared for entry-level positions, but their major degree may be marketing or finance. Minor degrees are selected from fields that increase knowledge or skills in the major discipline.

Minor degrees are basic courses required for major degrees. Every accounting major has completed courses for the minor degree before taking the required major classes. However, the student cannot minor in the same discipline as his or her major.

Notice the requirements for the accounting minor at Rutgers University Accounting Minor Curriculum. Note that the elective courses for the minor degree are courses that are required for the major degree. Keep in mind that this minor is not for accounting majors. It is, however, ideal for all related business majors.

Benefits of a College Minor

It may be called a “minor”, but it’s anything but. A college minor provides students with the opportunity to learn skills and knowledge in another discipline. They are not required at colleges or universities, so it’s up to the student to actively pursue one. There are several benefits of choosing a minor.

In a world where a stand-alone bachelor’s degree is becoming more common, the right major and minor paired together can give college graduates an edge when it comes to job applications. It’s critical to note here that the student should articulate how the minor has helped develop skills and knowledge that the potential employer deems important. Whether it’s in a cover letter or in the job interview itself, this is the chance to make that connection and to show your initiative in pursuing a minor in the first place. For example, a student majoring in marketing may pursue a minor in sociology, which on paper, may seem a bit random, but upon close investigation, and when explained correctly, it becomes clear that this combination can give the job applicant an edge.

Sociology is the study of the development of society and the structures that impact it. Marketing is the study of how businesses promote and sell products using advertising and market research. A sociology minor buttresses a marketing major well because the student learns what types of structures and cultural components impact human behavior within groups and communities, which can lead to increased accuracy and effectiveness in marketing to various segments of the population. Articulating this to potential employers certainly gives a distinctive edge over the applicant without a minor, with all other things being equal.

Aside from the career utility a minor brings, it can allow you to pursue other passions in addition to the one represented by your major. Perhaps you have a love of music or film but you do not want to make a career out of it. A minor allows you to explore and study these areas while maintaining the main goal of completing your major. While this may appear on the surface as doing something just for fun, remember that although employers do value expertise, they also value individuals that have diverse interests and are willing to learn something outside of their comfort zone. An academically unrelated minor also shows a diversity of learning aptitude that shows employers your ability to switch between different types of content areas and modalities.

In a world that has moved from an industrial economy to a thought economy, a major and minor can show employers that you think in an interdisciplinary manner, which may mean you can make connections that others do not see because of your broad worldview. Many of today’s jobs do not take place in an information vacuum. Many of the most successful people can solve problems and find creative solutions through cross-disciplinary methods.

Lastly, a minor can wind up being valuable if you decide to go back to school and pursue a graduate degree. For instance, you may graduate, go out into the real world, and realize that you are dissatisfied working in marketing only to realize your passion for the social sciences. That minor in sociology now becomes very handy as you prepare your graduate school applications.

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Choosing the Right College Minor

Ultimately there is no specific formula for picking the “right” college minor. It’s an individual choice that is distinct to your wants and needs. The best thing you can do is to research what your institution has to offer and focus on the reason(s) why you are pursuing a minor in the first place. It may be strictly for employment reasons, or you may just want to add some fun classes to your otherwise mundane course load, or it may be a combination of both.

Double Major or Minor

You might be asking, why not just forego a minor and pursue a double major? A double major can be extremely profitable, especially if you are combining two lucrative fields. But students should be wary of a double major for a few different reasons. It’s a lot of extra coursework and takes extreme planning, especially if it’s in two very different fields. It can add a lot of extra time and money to your education. A minor, on the other hand, only requires 15-18 credits, which ends up being only about five or six courses.

Selecting a Minor

Choosing a college major is an integral decision that shapes the undergraduate experience and has lasting implications. Choosing a minor to augment your education can also be a critical choice. Pairing the right college major and minor can provide substantive skills that give you a distinct edge when it comes to getting that first job out of college. With thousands of options to choose from, there is something for everyone.

In conclusion, the right major and minor can be a potent combination. They are distinctly different and serve different purposes. Think of the major as the main course of a meal and the minor as a side dish. Both are important and serve different purposes, but pair them together in the right manner and there is a synergistic effect that makes the sum greater than the parts.

BDP Staff
August 2021

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