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 minor can allow you to explore a subfield of your major — communications with a focus on business, for example,” Rachel York, an admissions counselor and academic adviser at admissions consulting company IvyWise, wrote in an email.

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.

Here’s what students should know when deciding if a minor is right for them.

What Is a College Minor?

A college major refers to structured coursework that students take within a chosen primary field of study. The 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.

“A minor is an additional credential that a student can pursue that requires fewer classes to complete than a major does,” says Adrian Grace, director of undergraduate advising for political science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. “It differs based on the minor that a student is pursuing, but often you’re talking about five to six classes to complete a minor, whereas a major is considerably more.”

Minors at the University of Massachusetts are between 15 and 20 credit hours, Grace says. At Northwest Missouri State University, minors typically consist of between 18 and 21 credit hours, says Steven Chappell, director of student publications and an academic adviser at the school.

Some colleges require minors; others don’t even offer them.

In helping students choose a minor, “I’m not generally driving it by what would be good on the job market, but sometimes it goes that way,” says Grace. “It’s just about looking at the whole student and seeing where their interests lie and where they think they want to take their degree work. How do we add some depth to it?”

[READ: Choosing a Major in College: What to Know.]

Considering the differences among schools, prospective students should consult a school’s degree plan for minor requirements and offerings.

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, a minor is a way for students to demonstrate additional skills that employers might be looking for “and help them stand out from their peers as a candidate in a unique way,” says Wendy Winter-Searcy, director of the Career Center at Colorado School of Mines.

Minors allow students to develop and eventually showcase an interdisciplinary skill set, which can be attractive to employers, says Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health and academic adviser for online and graduate students at New Mexico State University.

“The modern workplaces are often fast-paced, immersed in technology, require multitasking and may not have crystal clear specifications on duties, which would tell us that minors can help a lot,” Khubchandani wrote in an email. “Furthermore, minors can help change employment and field of work, open up opportunities for career advancement in the same field or place of employment and give candidates more perspective.”

Like choosing a major, it might take some time for students to decide on a minor. For others, it may come more naturally, York says.

“If you’re drawn to an area of study and take a few classes, you’re a few steps away from having an official minor in the subject,” she says. “This organic approach may work for those who aren’t sure what they want to do after college. It can add some definition to their experience.”

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

Minors are not required at Northwest Missouri State in what are considered “comprehensive majors,” which require more than 53 of the 120 credit hours required for graduation. The education major is one such example, Chappell says, adding that state-required courses and student teaching experiences take up the majority of students’ curriculum, leaving little time to complete a minor.

Any major at the university that consists of fewer than 53 credit hours requires a minor with it. For example, students who complete a bachelor of arts in history need to complete only 36 credit hours for their major, and thus must also complete a minor of 24 credits.

A major in mass media also does not require a minor, Chappell says. “Despite that, I still encourage all my advisees in mass media to have a minor and I specifically encourage them to get a minor in an area of interest they think they may want to be in the industry when they get out,” he says.

For example, a journalism student interested in covering science could benefit from a minor in physical sciences, or one interested in covering politics may be well-served to minor in political science, he says.

College Major and Minor Combinations

Popular minors for political science students at the University of Massachusetts are economics, history, philosophy and foreign languages. Data analytics and computer science are also minors that political science students tend to gravitate toward, Grace says.

“It adds some depth and different understanding to the major they pursue,” she says.

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

Data science, information security and web developing are also projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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.

[Read: A Guide to STEM Majors.]

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.

Khubchandani says he shares the same advice with students he advises.

“If someone has to select a minor and they ask me, I would say to add more technical skills to your portfolio such as data science, statistics and artificial intelligence,” he says.

In situations where minors aren’t required, students typically fill those credit hours with elective courses. If students choose that route, Grace encourages students to take some electives that align with their major.

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

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 extra work and costs it may require.

Double majors can sometimes require students to stay in college longer, especially if declared later in their college career, experts say. 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 financial situation and career goals when assessing whether to choose a minor or a double major, Grace says. A minor may also allow time for other opportunities that a double major wouldn’t. Grace says she discourages students from taking a fifth year in order to support a double major.

“I would rather see them do a minor in a field and also do research with one of our faculty members or have an internship experience, study abroad or do a domestic exchange,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just making sure they’re aware of all the opportunities that are on campus. Sometimes when they take advantage of those other experiential learning opportunities, I think it might mean that a minor makes more sense than a second major.”

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

Update 09/11/23: This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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