You’ve started college. You’ve chosen a major. You’re all set. But then someone blasts your equilibrium and asks, “What’s your minor?” That sets your mind working, making you start wondering if you really need a minor. And if the college doesn’t require one, should you bother having a minor? And if so, what should it be. Well, hopefully this post will help you wade through some of those very legitimate questions and provide you with some guidance on whether to have a minor field, and if so, how to choose it.
A minor field is an area of study that provides a basic grounding in an academic field. Here at UMaine, most are between 18 to 24 credit hour. That’s normally 6-8 classes, about ½ to ⅓ of the credits required for most majors. A minor won’t make you an expert, but if gives you a general understanding of the field. This general knowledge, though, can be important academically or professionally, or even in both ways.
First off, do you NEED a minor? While the University of Maine does not require students to have a minor, certain colleges and programs do. As an example, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) requires a minor for students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and who matriculated effective Fall 2011. So you’ll want to check with your advisor to see whether your particular major or your college does require one.
One way to choose a college minor is to think ahead to possible career paths you’d be interested in pursuing. Often a major is chosen to provide a direct path to that career. But sometimes a little more knowledge or a little more training is necessary or beneficial to achieve your career goals. That’s where a minor comes in. A minor can complement your major field, giving you a broader base to work from when you hit the job market or look into going to graduate school. For instance, there are a number of Psychology majors here in CLAS that are minoring in Neuroscience, providing them with a background in both the psychological and physiological aspects of the human brain. Another popular option, for students interested in going to law school, is to major in Political Science or History or even Philosophy and minor in Legal Studies. Students then gain the analytical and critical thinking skills that the liberal arts provide, plus a contextual background for the legal profession.
A minor can also complement the major in terms of career goals, while being quite different from the minor. A student interested in pursuing a career in marketing could choose a Business Administration in Marketing major and a minor in Graphic Design. Or perhaps a future software design engineer might major in Computer Science and minor in Accounting, providing that student with an understanding of the needs that business field needs in its software. Future K-12 teachers should also not underestimate the importance of a minor field in expanding teachable subject areas.
Of course, a minor does not have to help you towards your chosen career path. Not at all. For some students, a minor field is simply a subject that the student really enjoys and is passionate about. Let’s be honest, college is expensive and few people have the time and money required to obtain degrees in every subject they love. While your primary passion should be your major, if there’s another topic you feel strongly about, minor in it. The University of Maine has over 100 different minor programs, so there is likely one that will fit your passion. Students can theoretically have as many minors as they’d like (I say theoretically because time and money limit the vast majority of students to one or perhaps two minors). And while having a minor doesn’t have to be chosen to help your career, it can definitely demonstrate a breadth of knowledge and experience that can help you stand out from the crowd.
So, choosing a minor field is an intensely personal decision. Some students will choose the minor based on career paths, others for personal edification. Both are completely legitimate choices. If you find that you are having difficulty deciding on a minor, we here at the CLAS Advising Center can help you look through your options. Also talk with your faculty advisor about complementary fields. And don’t forget that the Career Center is an excellent resource and they can help you examine potential minor fields as well. But in the end, the choice is yours. Don’t let anyone choose it for you.