College students hear enough about choosing the right college major. But often, students have to choose a secondary area of study—a minor.
While a minor in college may seem, well, rather minor, there’s a reason why it’s a part of college curricula, dating all the way back to the early 20th century.
Why a Major and Minor?
In 1910, Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell did something novel: He created the academic major and minor system. After the failure of the German-influenced elective system (where students had the freedom to choose whatever they wanted to take), he established a “concentration” or major system in its place, with distribution requirements for subjects outside of a primary area of study. As a strong national influence, Harvard set the tone for a new American model in collegiate education. Soon, colleges and universities were following suit by incorporating majors and minors into their curriculum.
How to Pick a Minor in College
Students may arbitrarily choose a minor just because their school requires it (although not all schools do), but there are many reasons why they should think hard about picking the right minor. Here are some strategies:
- Choose a passion you don’t want to fully commit to but still wish to explore. This could be an art (dance) or interest (history) or pretty much anything that you’d love to devote more time to in a smaller capacity.
- Find a minor that complements your major. USC provides an example of a student adding a history minor to the cinematic arts critical studies major to deepen a student’s understanding of social context in films. Talk to an academic adviser about common major/minor pairings for a career you’re interested in (there may even be class overlap).
- Pick a minor you can’t major in. If you can’t fit in all of the requirements for a double major, make one of your concentrations a minor instead.
- Minor in a different aspect of your major. For example, major in finance and minor in accounting.
- If you are required to choose a minor, make sure you choose something you’ll have time for and not something that will take up more time than your major.
- Make sure there’s more than one class you are interested in within a given minor. Otherwise, after that first class is over, you may end up studying an area you don’t like.
The Benefits of Having a Minor
A minor isn’t meaningless. Sometimes it can direct a student’s future career path, as a potential employer may see a student’s background and eye the minor as complementary to a job description. In fact, it could even be a tie-breaker between two candidates of the same major.
College minors also may show a bit of character and depth. For example, a student may major in a science, with the intention of going on to medical school, but have a minor in jazz piano. When it comes to applying to further schooling, this may show the school the prospective student’s ability to juggle multiple fields. It also helps the candidate stand out.
The Bottom Line
College minors can be meaningful academic endeavors, especially if students take the time to think about what they want out of their minor. While they may not end up using it in their career, they may gain other skills and benefits from it, overall making for a more well-rounded student—and job applicant.