What a College Minor Is and Why It Matters

A college major carries considerable weight in higher education, shaping career paths and lives as students pursue work within a particular discipline. Undergraduate students should consider just as carefully their choice of a college minor, experts say.

A college major refers to structured coursework that students take within a chosen primary field of study. The exact number of classes may vary by major and school, but typically students can expect to log upward of 30 credit hours. By contrast, minors generally require 18 credit hours or more, typically in the six- to seven-course range.

But what exactly is a minor, anyway?

“It’s like a mini-major,” says Kendra Millay, academic advising team leader for IvyWise, an educational consulting company. “It’s focusing a certain number of courses toward a field of study that you’re interested in, but not as many courses that would be required to have a full-blown bachelor’s degree major.”

Even though students will take more college courses for a major, experts say they shouldn’t overlook the importance of determining a minor.

“Minors are incredibly important because it’s another way to demonstrate to employers that you have an interest in something,” Millay says. “When I’m working with my students, I ask them, ‘What do you want to demonstrate to employers?’ Your resume and your transcript tell a story. What story are you painting for them?” Although minors are not required or even offered at all colleges, they are generally available as a way to study another discipline in depth. Considering the differences among schools, prospective students should consult a school’s degree plan for minor requirements.

What to Consider When Choosing a College Minor

While students may want to find a minor that complements their major, they should also consider how it will help them develop skills and experiences that could be valuable in their careers, says Fabián Álvarez, assistant English professor at Western Kentucky University. WKU requires students in certain bachelor’s degree programs to complete a minor.

“A minor is really just a half-step off of a major, and so you’re trying to figure out things and introduce yourself to the world that you might inhabit when you graduate,” Álvarez says.

From a career perspective, it’s a way for students to demonstrate skills that employers might be looking for “and help them stand out as a candidate in a unique way,” says Wendy Winter-Searcy, director of the Career Center at Colorado School of Mines.

Like choosing a major, it might take some time for students to decide on a minor. What often happens, Millay says, is that some students choose a minor by default when they’ve accumulated a decent number of hours toward one through prerequisite classes.

Instead, students should be intentional about what minor they choose and make sure it serves a purpose for their educational goals, Millay says.

“If we work with students earlier during their tenure, we can have a little more strategy, a little more intentionality to make sure that their resume and their transcripts are really conveying the story they want and it’s not just something they’re tacking on last minute,” she says.

Neil Ralston, a journalism professor and academic adviser at Lindenwood University in Missouri, says he typically waits until students are satisfied with their major before he discusses a potential minor with them.

But students who pursue a minor should make sure it fits into their graduation plan and doesn’t tack on extra time, say experts, who also encourage students to declare a minor around the same time as a major. That typically happens by the end of sophomore year or the beginning of junior year.

Minors are not required at Lindenwood, but Ralston says many students recognize the value of a minor and elect to pursue one. His goal as an adviser is to “work with a student to figure out what would complement their major and push them toward a career post-graduation,” he says.

College Major and Minor Combinations

Journalism students at Lindenwood gravitate toward minors in digital marketing and advertising to open up opportunities and cultivate the emerging skills required in the current media climate, Ralston says.

The field of advertising and marketing is expected to grow by 10% in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also reports a median salary of $133,380 for advertising, promotions and marketing managers in 2021.

But employment prospects aren’t the only reason for carefully selecting a minor. Experts say that a minor can also deepen a student’s thinking and allow the student to forge a broader worldview by tapping into interdisciplinary connections.

Minors are helpful for students who know what they want to do in their career, Alvarez says, as a minor “helps to hone some of those adjacent skills.”

However, Alvarez says it’s important for students to remember that they’re not pigeon-holed professionally by their major or minor. He’s seen numerous English majors go on to work in a wide variety of professions. The goal is to develop practical skills that will translate to a number of potential careers.

With that in mind, students may try to deepen their thinking and marketability by choosing a minor in a foreign language or something that allows them to develop composition and computer programming skills, Millay says.

Students at Colorado School of Mines, Winter-Searcy explains, are starting to gravitate toward similar computer-driven fields like data science and data analytics for potential minors. Biosciences, aerospace engineering, business management and project management are also areas where she expects to see growth in both job prospects and minor interest.

Nurse practitioner is projected to be the fastest-growing field over the next decade with an expected employment increase of 46%, according to the BLS. Data science, information security and web developing are also projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade.

While many students pair their major with a related minor, some students go a different route and minor in a field unrelated to their major. Some do it to pursue another area of interest without committing to a full major course load. Others might see a minor as a creative outlet.

“I’ve had students who were computer science majors who were just passionate about music,” Millay says. “So for them, it was a way to allocate some of their coursework toward their passions and feel like they’ve left the college experience being able to maximize the opportunities in front of them and leverage the courses available to them.”

Since minors aren’t required at Lindenwood, Ralston says students typically fill those hours with electives.

[READ: How to Get Into the College Classes You Need]

“You can build a series of electives that could help complement your major as well,” he says. “Where a minor provides a more sustained program in a specific area, this allows students to branch out and take a few classes in multiple areas of interest.”

Choosing Between a Minor and a Double Major

Some students round out their undergraduate education by completing two majors. A double major can be economically rewarding, particularly when combining lucrative fields such as business and STEM. But students should consider how such a move fits into their degree program and whether it is worth any extra work and costs it may require.

Double majors can sometimes require students to stay in college longer, especially if they declare them later in their college career, Millay says. A minor allows for a quicker path toward a credential in a discipline that can still be reflected on a resume.

Students should consider their own financial situation and career goals when assessing whether to choose a minor or a double major, she says.

“Some students don’t want to allocate all of their coursework toward majors or minors, so by doing a major and a minor, it can leave you some free electives to explore something else or allocate toward a study abroad,” Millay says. “The benefit to doing a major and minor combination is that it gives you time and a little more flexibility.”

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What a College Minor Is and Why It Matters originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 09/22/22: This article has been updated with new information.

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