The Explanation of Major & Minor in College Degrees

Incoming college freshmen may feel overwhelmed when faced with declaring a major or minor fields of study. Many colleges allow students to declare or choose their major after taking their initial core classes. While a college diploma first designates the overall course of study like Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, the diploma and transcript also show a concentration(s) in a focused area, or a major. A minor is a less intensive course of study that is secondary to the major designation.

What Is a College Major?

A bachelor's degree typically requires approximately 120 credit hours of course work, with an average semester course load of 15 credit hours spread over four years. A major is the main declared field of study during the degree coursework. For example, you might choose to focus on mathematics, engineering, business or some other course of study. Depending upon both the program of study and the university, most majors require 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework for completion.

Choosing a Major

The requirements for a major are defined by different academic departments within the university. Majors can be broadly or narrowly defined depending upon how specific the options offered by the department. For instance, some schools might offer a major in the general field of economics while others might offer more narrowly defined studies, such as Latin American economics. A broad major allows you to choose an array of electives, or optional classes, while the major with a narrower focus often allows fewer choices in courses.

Choosing a Minor

A college minor may be optional and requires fewer courses than your major. Whereas a major will often require prerequisite classes and classes across a different fields within the department, a minor may be more of a survey of the department. Completion of a minor sometimes requires completion of as few as five classes within the academic department. Not all academic departments offer courses of study for minors. For example, a student might major in international business and add a minor in a language like Chinese.

Purpose of College Minors

Students can elect to minor in a field for a multitude of reasons. The most common reason is to supplement a major. Business majors frequently minor in economics while some students majoring in liberal arts underpin their primary study with a minor in philosophy or English. Education majors are often required to select a teaching field as their minor. Other students choose to minor in a subject area about which they are passionate but doesn't pertain to their career field. An interesting minor can also be a good way to make a student stand out in the job market or when applying to graduate school.