An Alert for Psychology Majors

Should you also have a minor?

Posted May 24, 2016

Choosing to major in psychology is a big decision, one that entails thinking about whether graduate school or immediate employment will be your post-graduate goal. But choosing to major in psychology usually has a second decision associated with it: Deciding whether to add a minor alongside the major.

On most college or university campuses, a minor is a concentration of courses that usually represents half or less than half of a full major. If a major was comprised of, say, 9 or 10 courses in a psychology department, then a minor in psychology would probably require 5 courses or thereabouts.

Why choose a minor? Some students choose their minors strategically, believing that a major in psychology could be complemented or even strengthened by a minor in a related field. Sociology or anthropology, for example, are popular minors that go along with psychology. Students who are thinking about graduate school in psychology will often be strategic and minor in areas that at first blush may not seem related but—given the rigors and demands of grad school—actually make good sense. Thus, enrolling in a minor in statistics (good for refining research skills), computer science (ditto), math (ditto), or biology (a good fit for future neuroscience grad students) can work well for a psychology major. So can a minor in philosophy, which can encourage careful, logical argument and analysis. These and other science-focused minors can help students get a leg up in the application process by demonstrating serious course work that may well aid them in their future graduate courses.

But there is a competing argument: Minor in something you enjoy for it’s own sake rather than a more mercenary reason. Instead of being strategic (besides grad school in psychology, a student might minor in economics or finance or human resources if she is thinking about getting a job right after graduation in some business-related setting), why not choose a minor for the intellectual pleasure it provides? Some students elect to continue to study a foreign language from high school during their college years or starting one from scratch (Italian and Mandarin are more popular in college than in high school). Working towards fluency in another language is a laudable choice, one that might also fit well with some study abroad experience. Still other students might decide on an English minor, either to help with their writing skills or as a pleasant excuse to read great literature (I took many English courses during college—from the Modern Novel to Shakespeare for this very reason—reading great books was a fun diversion from my psychological studies, as well as a source of ideas). If you are passionate about history or the classics, why not minor in one of those areas of the humanities—it may be your last, best opportunity to do so (I will hazard a guess that without the confines of formal study, few people will tackle the Iliad or the Odyssey on their own as working adults).

Is a minor necessary? No. Some people feel compelled to minor in something so as to impress admissions’ committees, future employers, or whoever reads a resume. You should not minor in something, anything, just to add a line to your resume. That’s silly. If you have a sincere and motivated reason for completing a minor—that’s fine. But don’t pick one because you think it will be “impressive” or because you prefer having a set of course requirements laid out for you rather than choosing courses piecemeal. If you are not inherently interested in or motivated by a minor, you won’t excel in it. And if you don’t do well in the minor, someone who does carefully review your resume or undergraduate transcript will wonder about your motivation.

For those students still in college or about to start come fall, summer is a great time to decide whether a minor might be a wise choice for your education in psychology.