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How Important Is a Minor in College?

How to decide if a minor is right for you.

The Jopwell Collection/ Unsplash
Source: The Jopwell Collection/ Unsplash

In office hours and advising appointments, I’m often asked both about double majors and minors. The reality is that neither are really necessary. That said, it can be helpful to have a double major and/or to have a minor. But very few people will care or ask one day if you earned a double major or minor. In speaking with a brilliant friend recently, she had actually forgotten that years ago she had double-majored. We are in a current moment of thinking more, more, more must equal better, better, better. If a double-major or minor does not significantly extend time in school, then it can make sense. The trouble that students get into is when it extends the time to graduation and/or deepens their debt. (Sadly, these are also the same reasons why some schools push for students to take on these responsibilities.)

It’s most refreshing to see students double-major or choose a minor when they pick things that are very different, serving to highlight multidimensionality and complexity. Many years ago, I had a student who double-majored in biology and French, minored in sociology, and had a deep interest in music. I’ve also had students who major in sociology, and then minor in Spanish or art, for example. Minoring in a language can put a student at a fantastic advantage in terms of gaining cultural capital and future employment.

When asked if a minor is worth it, I usually explain to students that if they find themselves repeatedly choosing classes in the same discipline, and creating a cluster of courses that they’ve enjoyed and succeeded in, it’s a natural thing to do. In fact, that’s what I did with earning a certificate in gender studies when I was in college. I really didn’t set out to do it, but I was already accumulating classes in that area. Some students benefit by choosing a major that feels dreamy and intriguing to them, while choosing another major or minor that feels more practical and applied. Or vice versa: Students might choose a very practical, vocationally-driven major and augment it with one that might feel more ethereal.

The thing about college is that it’s an opportunity to think extensively and deeply about a smorgasbord of topics and issues. A workplace can train a person in pertinent details and practices, but college can equip a person to read more critically, write and speak more cogently, think in a more deeply nuanced way, and essentially live in a new way. Technical schools and trade schools are terrific and serve specific functions that are helpful to society. At their best, though, colleges and universities are not just about job preparation and training, but really about humanity.

Overall, a minor or a double major can serve the following functions:

  1. An added bonus.
  2. A good contrast from one's other major field of study.
  3. A meaningful augmentation to the other major field of study.
More from Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D.
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