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Majors, Minors, and More: Which Degree Should You Pursue?
One of the first questions you’ll ask and be asked at admit weekends is “what’s your major?” Many schools also hold individual graduation and orientation programs for each major. Clearly, your major plays an important role in defining your identity in college – so what happens if you can’t decide on just one?
For a variety of reasons –multiple interests, job prospects, and more – many students choose to pursue more than just a major in their time in college. Some seek to graduate with a major and a minor, some add a concentration in addition to their major, and some choose the über-ambitious double or even triple major. If you’ve ever considered branching out in your studies, read on to find out more about double majors, minors, concentrations, and more!
(Note: Some schools, such as Harvard and Princeton, use the term “concentration” to refer to what is typically called a major. The “concentration” we refer to in this post is a separate type of certification, and should not be confused with a “concentration” in that sense.)
Why Not Just Major?
There are many reasons for a student to pursue degrees beyond the typical single major.
Broad Interests. Probably the most common reason is interest; students usually aren’t interested in just one subject, so picking just one major, especially if that major isn’t an interdisciplinary subject like women’s studies, can be somewhat restricting. Double majoring, or seeking a minor, concentration, or joint major in addition to a major, allows students to explore broader academic interests and doesn’t force them to sacrifice certain subjects for others.
Employment Opportunities. Concern about employment opportunities is also a common reason to pursue more than just a major. Students who are interested in subjects they feel will be difficult to find a job in, such as many of the humanities, can also study in more career-oriented fields. This option allows students not only the stability of a lucrative major, but the ability to study the disciplines they’re passionate about. If a student is interested in Slavic literature, but isn’t confident or interested in the job prospects for that major, they can double major or minor in another field to ensure that they’ll still have promising job opportunities upon graduation.
More Options. Studying multiple subjects also allows students to keep their options open. For example, if a student hasn’t decided if they’re interested in law school, but wants to be prepared for the possibility, they can minor in a field like political science that introduces many concepts and skills necessary to practice law and perform well on the LSAT. By minoring in political science, they’ve prepared for law school without placing all their eggs in one basket.
Given all the reasons listed above, and the fact that you get two majors for the price of one, double majoring seems like a pretty great deal! Indeed, the advantages to pursuing a double major are manifold; you’re equally qualified in two subjects, effectively doubling your job prospects, and you’ve also had the privilege of being exposed to two subjects in great depth and detail.
However, with the advantages of double majoring come disadvantages as well. Unsurprisingly, taking a double major is difficult not only because it requires twice the amount of work, but because fitting all the requirements for two majors into four years can be tricky. Often, students pursue double majors in two related subjects, so that points that count for one major also count for the other (although many schools do not allow students to count points for one class towards more than one major).
In addition, if your school features many general education requirements, it can be difficult to ensure all your GEs are covered in addition to your major requirements. As a result, many students who choose to double major are those who have already accrued a significant number of credits upon matriculation from AP and IB courses or placement exams.
More common than students who pursue multiple majors are students who major and minor. A minor is similar to a major in that it’s an intensive course of study into one field, but it is less rigorous and in-depth than a major. While students may be expected to take 8 elective courses in their major field, they may take only 3 or 4 in their minor field.
While a minor doesn’t hold the same clout as a major in terms of employment opportunities, it still allows students to explore interests outside their major or supplement their major credentials. Many students choose to minor in fields similar to their major in order to round out their understanding of a greater field, while others choose to minor in fields entirely different than their major to diversify their education.
Major/Concentration and Joint Majors
Though offerings vary from school to school, many universities offer concentration or joint major programs that differ slightly from double major and major/minor programs. In terms of rigor, concentrations and joint majors typically fall between a double major and a major/minor.
Joint majors are typically programs in two related fields, with a slight emphasis on one. For example, political science and economics joint majors are common. Programs like this allow students to achieve a higher level of mastery than they would by merely minoring in one of their fields, without the amount of work that double majoring requires.
Concentration programs are usually more thorough than minor programs, and are often offered in subjects where demand or faculty aren’t sufficient for a full major program. Concentrations are often pursued by students who wish to major in a broader field while still gaining expertise in a more specialized area (for example, a student who majors in psychology and completes a concentration in cognitive development).
Oftentimes, the idea of narrowing down their entire educational future to one subject can be daunting for students. Many also struggle with the internal conflict of being passionate about a subject considered “unpractical” and the pressure to major in something “practical” to boost their job prospects upon graduation. There are a variety of programs available to help students break free from the confines of a single major. With this guide, you can decide if a double major, minor, or concentration is the right choice for you!