What is a Major? What is a Minor?

Factors that should be part of your decision

Deciding on a major is a big step, so you may be relieved when I tell you that you’re not signing your life away when you decide. Most majors allow some flexibility to tailor your classes to your particular interests. And if the major doesn’t work out for you, you can switch majors at a later time. Let’s begin the process of decision making by looking at what some of your options are.

What is a Major?
A University major is an organized program of study with some specific requirements that you must complete. Usually the program of study focuses on a subject, and the academic requirements are designed so that you gain some in-depth knowledge of that subject. Typically the subject that is the focus of the major is the same as the department offering the major (e.g., accounting, English, chemistry, or sociology), but many universities offer interdisciplinary majors, that bridge several departments. Even majors that are aligned with a specific department have requirements from other departments to help you understand your main focus of interest. For example, to understand physics, you’ll need to take courses in the mathematics department.

DSC 9058If the goal of the major is to prepare you for a specific career that you can pursue once you have your degree in hand, the major often includes a certain amount of supervised work experience. For example, student teaching is always part of a teacher education program. Majors that are less career-oriented and more academically oriented often include at least one course on research methods.
Some universities offer a major called “General Studies” or something similar. This kind of major has few specific requirements but also has no connection to any career in particular. Globe : (University Guidance & Counseling Program) is based on the assumption that you, like most students, want to find a connection between majors and careers. That’s why most of the majors described in our magazine and website have required courses that equip you with knowledge and skills that you’ll use in your job.
You may need to state your intended major when you apply for admission to university. And having some idea of your intended major may also help you decide on a university because many majors are taught considerably better at some universities than at others. For the particular major you have in mind, one university may have more experienced instructors, more course offerings, better access to instructors, major better library collections, better academic advisors, or better connections with employers.
Another reason to plan your major before you are required to declare it is that some majors are not open to just anyone who expresses interest.01 2

What About Concentrations,
Minors, and Double Majors ?
Majors that are highly career-oriented may give you few opportunities to choose courses that reflect your interests. For example, in some health-care fields the courses you must take are mandated by a professional association or by licensing requirements.
In most majors, however, you can select courses to emphasize an aspect of the subject that interests you such as ancient history as opposed to modern, nuclear physics as opposed to optics, or international business management as opposed to domestic. Sometimes the department sets the course
requirements for the major to reflect two or more possible “concentrations” or “tracks”.
Obviously your career goal is an important consideration when you choose a concentration within a major. Of course, it is possible that you have a special interest that is not well represented by any of the concentrations in the major. For example, if you major in geology, don’t expect that the department will offer a concentration in French. In that case, you may consider doing a minor in the second subject or a double major in the two subjects.


A concentration within a major is not simply a matter of which courses you take within the department offering the major. Often a concentration will lead you to take appropriate supporting courses in other departments. For example, an economics major who concentrates in econometrics will probably take additional courses offered by the mathematics and computer science departments, whereas one who concentrates in applied economics will probably take additional business courses. Students who have a very clear idea of their career goals may create do-it yourself concentrations by choosing appropriate courses from departments outside their major. For example, a religious studies major who intends to do missionary work in Africa may take courses in African history and Latin American history. A human resources major who intends to do industrial training may take courses in industrial psychology.

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If you have a strong interest in some area outside the department of your major, you may be able to minor in that other subject. A minor is a set of course requirements that amount to less than a major but that still put you on record as having some depth of knowledge of that field. By combining a major and a minor, you may create a particular niche for yourself in the working world that makes you attractive to employers. For example, with a major in chemistry and a minor in business, you may be a strong candidate for a sales job with a pharmaceuticals company. With a major in computer science and a minor in public relations, you may become the Webmaster at an advertising agency.

Double Majors
In some cases, it may be possible to pursue a double major-that is, to complete the requirements for two majors. This is most feasible when both majors do not load your schedule with large numbers of required courses. If both majors allow for many freely chosen courses (these are called “electives”), you may be able to satisfy the requirements for both.
Some people combine interests by studying one subject in university and a different one in graduate or professional school. For example, most social workers and librarians are expected to enter the workforce with a master’s degree, but master’s programs in social work do not require you to major in the same subject as an undergraduate, and master’s programs in library science actively discourage it. Medical schools require applicants to have completed certain science and math courses as undergraduates, but it is possible to fit these courses into many majors, and a well-rounded academic background may give you an advantage over other med school applicants.

The lesson to take away is that a major does not need to be a straitjacket that confines you to one subject. So if you’re nervous about declaring a major partly because you have a variety of interests, try to find creative
to tailor your major. Look at the university catalog to see what concentrations are available and how much freedom you will have to take electives. Talk to an academic advisor about options for minors, double majors, or graduate study.

Changing Majors
For one reason or another, you may decide later that you need to change your major. For example, you may earn poor grades in the major because the subject is either harder than you expected or so uninteresting that you aren’t really trying to do the work. Or perhaps a course you take in a different field or a new career goal you learn about may capture your interest and lure you away from your original major. Keep in mind that unless the new major has requirements that are very similar to those of your original major, making this change is likely to set back your graduation date by one or more years. The sooner in your University career you decide to make the change, the less ground you’ll lose. That’s why, when you choose a major, it makes sense to get a realistic idea of what the major is like as soon as possible so you’ll know whether it feels right to you. Ask your academic advisor to suggest a course that represents your intended major well and is not watered-down (e.g., Biology with Lab versus Biology for Poets), and take this course sooner rather than later. The good news is that if you do all of our guidance tests during this year or the years to come honestly and with an open mind, you can focus on the factors that are likely to make you want to stick with your choice of a major.

Factors That Should Be Part of the Decision
The goal of our program is to help you choose a major and a career simultaneously through a process that improves the likelihood that your choice will satisfy you. You’ll go through a series of guidance tests to clarify your personality type, skills, and favorite high school courses. All of these are important factors in the decision.

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Time and Expense Required
Student needs to be confident that he will enjoy the major itself, not just the rewards at the end of the road, because it will be a long road, and university tuition keeps getting more and more expensive.
Some of the careers require more than just a degree. For managerial jobs in particular, university graduates are expected to gain some experience in the workplace, learn the language of the industry, acquire people skills that usually aren’t taught in university classrooms, and demonstrate their readiness through some temporary managerial assignments.
Don’t plan on a managerial career unless you are willing to pay your dues as a management trainee.
Rewarding careers often attract large numbers of job seekers. The competition can begin in university or, for some careers, even earlier. As part of the decision about a major and a career, you need to get a realistic sense of your chances of entering and succeeding in the job.
The counselor says:
The time and expense of getting a university degree can also pay off later in ways that have nothing to do with your career. What you have learned in university may enable you to appreciate a well-designed building, an outstanding movie, or a nature walk better than someone without that background.