Should I declare a minor?

This post will be most relevant for those of you in your first or second year of college but may be meaningful to those of you in your junior and senior years as well.

During advising meetings, I am frequently asked if I think a student should minor in a particular discipline. It should be said that there is no clear answer to this question. But there are three issues a student should consider before deciding to minor,

1.) What is your major area of interest and what job are you hoping   to land after college?

A minor is essential for some disciplines. For example, Professor Phil Ruder, an
Economist at Pacific University had this to say about students majoring in Economics:

“For students interested in graduate study in economics, a math minor — or even a math major with an economics minor — is all but essential. For most of my students, economics is either their minor or their second major — their first one being business. Apart from a math minor for students applying to econ grad programs, I don’t think that a minor offers much of a competitive edge and, indeed, think most students would benefit more from a wider sampling of random courses than from a minor.”

2.) What is the minor?
For example, consider a minor in music.

So you love music, you want to have a music minor so you have evidence of your extensive secondary training in this area. Wonderful. Do it, but do it for that reason. Unless you plan to go into music therapy, a music minor is unlikely to help you in finding a job in psychology, economics, sociology, biology, or most other non-performance arts professions. But you have to make this decision. There are other considerations you may need to take into account besides career opportunities within your major discipline. For example, are you a music instructor on the side and plan to continue this avocation? Are you interested in researching music or linguistics (music is, after all, a language. It has syntax, semantics, rules, and meaning) within your major discipline? If so, this minor may help you achieve those aspirations.

This is consistent with Political Scientist, Dr. Jules Boykoff’s advice when students approach him about declaring a minor.

I definitely recommend minors for students/advisees who have a passion for an area but simply don’t have the time to fulfill a major. When they declare a minor, I also make sure they get an advisor in that minor area, preferably, a faculty member they’ve enjoyed working with. That said, I do not tend to recommend minors for tactical reasons (e.g. so they can secure a job), although I am happy to talk through such calculations.”

That said, if the minor is in a foreign language and will result in some competency in a second language, this could certainly help you. A second language will almost always provide a competitive edge in garnering a meaningful job later. This is especially true for the health professions.

3.) Are your resources limited (e.g., time and money)?
If you are hoping to finish college in four years either due to an urgency to complete your training or because your financial situation demands it, a minor will hurt you.

A minor typically requires at least another full semester of college to complete. This is the cost that students frequently forget to consider when declaring a minor. Unless you take a course overload every semester, a minor will increase your time and the cost of college.

4.) Will a minor contribute to a more favorable GPA?
If you excel in the minor discipline and you are assured of an A or B in those courses (i.e., they doe no violence to your grade-point-average), then a minor could also be beneficial. That said, declaring a minor will add to your workload. If you think it could hurt your overall grade-point-average, then perhaps a minor is not a good plan.  In fact, Gretchen Potter, Pacific University’s Advising Director had this to say,

“There are two main issues to think about from a general advising perspective when it comes to minors. The general rule is that a minor should contrast the major to show a well-rounded, multifaceted individual. Foreign language minors, for example, look very good on a resume. Of course, within a specific discipline having a related major/minor, combination may serve a student better. In my teaching discipline of theatre the combination of a theatre, major/music minor would serve an aspiring performer better than a contrasting major/minor combination. The other issue is one of practicality. For many students there might not be enough room in their degree plans to complete a minor without extra time or tuition. This is often the case for transfer students and students switching majors later in their college careers.“

Some other considerations:

I am a behavioral neuroscientist, this mean that the work I do falls within two separate disciplines, Psychology and Physiology. Most graduate programs will want a background in both the social as well as the natural sciences. I occasionally have students who are passionate about this line of work as well and hope to find a career in behavioral neuroscience. This can be tricky because a dual major in both psychology and the biological sciences is advantageous but is not necessarily required.

A Solution: Major in one or the other. If you choose psychology, you will also need a full year of physics, a full year of chemistry in addition to a semester of organic chemistry, and a year of introductory biology. If your minor will include these classes, then go for it. Tailoring your transcript to meet the needs of a graduate program is helpful, but the downside is you need to plan this far in advance, usually in your first year of college. In my experience, students are not this planful or even aware of their career trajectory. I declared three separate majors in college, to the extent that I earned two separate Bachelors of Science degrees before graduate school because I just couldn’t decide which area was my passion, I could see myself as a marine biologist, as a medical doctor, as an animal behaviorist, as a veterinarian, etc. What resulted in my career path was a stellar undergraduate research program, a summer applied job, and a wonderful undergraduate advisor.

The point is, you have to make the decision about whether to minor on your own. But think about your individual circumstance as it applies to the above considerations. This should help guide your decision.

Best of luck!

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the following professionals for their feedback on this issue:

Dr. Jules Boykoff (Political Science), Pacific University                                                      Dr. Brian Jackson (Exercise Science), Pacific University                                                Dr. Larry Lipen (History), Pacific University                                                          Gretchen Potter, Director of the Advising Center, Pacific University                         Dr. Phil Ruder (Economics), Pacific University                                                                    Dr. Phil Schot (Exercise Science), Pacific University

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