College Major vs. Minor – What’s the Difference? [2023 Guide]

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Discover the differences between a college major vs minor. Explore their impact on future career prospects, and gain insights on which path is right for you.

What’s the difference between a major vs. minor? This distinction is something that prospective college students need to understand before starting school.

College Major vs. Minor

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Ultimately, majors are primary concentrations that make up the bulk of the classes, and minors are secondary focuses that can complement the major but don’t always need to.

What is a Major?

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Your major will be the cornerstone of your college career: a concentration of classes that can help equip you for starting your career after graduation.

Your major will be what’s listed on your diploma. If you’re getting a four-year degree, your major will generally fall under one of two categories: Bachelor of the Arts or Bachelor of Science.

Both of these college degree types are treated with the same weight. The only difference is that a Bachelor of the Arts degree tends to focus on humanities and language, while a Bachelor of Science degree focuses predominately on math and science.

To fulfill your major, you will need to take a number of required core classes. These essentially tell the school that you have done the minimal amount of work necessary to achieve your degree. In addition to your core curriculum, you may have the option of stretching your legs and taking electives that appeal to you.

Electives are often the more fun classes, and combined with your core classes will make up your total course load. All colleges are different, but you can generally expect to take forty classes to complete your bachelor’s degree.

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Your major is not set in stone, and it may change throughout your academic career, although making the switch later in your college life might prolong the time that it to takes you to finish your degree.

Many colleges suggest that you take a variety of classes in your freshman year of school, and only declare a major after you have seen what works for you. Some students opt for double majors, which increases the workload but may give you increased employment opportunities after school.

Those who choose double majors often look for concentrations that complement each other, like a double major in foreign language and international studies. Both majors may play off each other and make the candidate more attractive in the workplace.

When it comes to choosing your major, think about your skillset and what you like to do. Often, your hobbies and interests might paint a good picture of what your major should be.

What is a Minor?

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There are a few different ways to look at your college minor, and how you determine the best one for you all comes down to personal preference and what you want to achieve in your life.

A minor is a secondary concentration of courses. It may be a field of study that complements your major or an area that you’re particularly passionate about.

The first school of thought sees your minor as a group of coursework that supports your major. For example, someone could get a Bachelor of History with a minor in foreign languages or journalism. Both of those concentrations amplify the history degree and provide depth and context to the study.

Another example could be a student who majors in marketing and minors in graphic design or someone with a major in Finance and a minor in economics. It’s undeniably pragmatic to go this route, and it may help you with your career.

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Other students decide to select minors that they are personally interested in but won’t necessarily complement their majors. Some students may major in science or math and minor in art to round off their degree and give their left brain a break.

Although minoring in something that you’re passionate about may seem like a waste of time and money, that’s not necessarily true. You may be expanding your horizons and showing that you have versatility in your education.

You may also appear more well-rounded to future employers, and they might see you as someone who is willing to think outside of the box and take risks.

Major vs Minor – What’s the Difference

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The difference between the two is quite similar to that of a degree vs. major because they both are typically mixed up a lot.

Majors make up the bulk of your schooling, and when you graduate, you are often considered to have fulfilled all of the requirements to start in the field. The majority of your classes will revolve around your major, making up 40 to 50 credit hours. When you graduate, your major will appear on your diploma.

Minors are secondary fields of study that may complement your major but don’t necessarily need to. Many schools require you to have 15 credit hours of classes to qualify as having a minor.

Your transcripts will often reflect your minor, although your diploma may or may not. Some students find the process of choosing a major and a minor to be daunting. The good news is, nothing needs to be set in stone. You may change your minor or major at almost any point in your academic career, and you may add on a minor later if you want.

Selecting a Major and a Minor

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When selecting your major, consider your hobbies and things that you’re most interested in.

If you love writing fiction in your spare time, why not major in literature? If you’ve always loved gazing out at the wild cold reaches of outer space, why not leverage that interest into a career in astronomy or another branch of science? The sky is the limit.

Some people select their minor to complement their major. It can be a good strategy if you want to appear well-rounded and have lots of career options after you graduate. On the other hand, there’s no reason why your minor shouldn’t be something that you’re personally interested in. There are plenty of accounting majors who minor in philosophy.

Ultimately, you need to look at what you want to do after you graduate and determine what the best path to get there is. If it makes sense for you to fine-tune your major with a minor that complements it, consider doing that.

For example, if you are majoring in marketing, consider having a minor in art, especially if you are hoping to work at an advertising firm.

Alternatively, you can always look at your minor as a way to stretch your wings and explore other areas that you’re passionate about. Employers like to see well-rounded candidates, so a seemingly-unrelated minor might just work in your favor.

Consider all of your options carefully, but remember that you can change your mind during the process as well. You can also research the typical types of minors that are affiliated with specific majors to give you a better idea of what others are doing.

Is a Minor a Degree?

A minor is not a degree. It’s a concentration that you get in addition to your primary field of study, known as your major.

Although minors can often round out your degree and provide depth and context to your education, they are not considered to be stand-alone degrees or certifications. Your minor should be noted on your transcripts and may or may not appear on your diploma itself.

Although minors are not degrees, they can still be valuable.

Can your Major and Minor be Completely Different?

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Some people choose minors that complement their majors, and some decide to go with minors that are entirely different than their primary field of study.

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If you are majoring in a more vague field, it’s helpful to have a minor that can fine-tune your particular skill set. Alternately, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a minor that you’re passionate about, even if it doesn’t reflect your major.

Having an unrelated minor might show your range and appeal to a variety of employers.

What is the Difference Between a Major and a Minor?

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Majors are primary fields of study, and minors are secondary concentrations that may or may not be related to your major. Although the two can be similar, they do not need to be.

Plenty of people choose a minor later on in their academic career. This minor can be based upon an area of interest that they discovered, or a way to complement their existing major and possibly make them more attractive in the workplace.

Although you won’t get a degree for your minor, it may still be helpful to have one on your record because it shows that you were willing to put in the work to learn multiple concentrations and that you may have range and focus as a person.

Is a Minor an Associates Degree?

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Minors and associate’s degrees are not the same. An associate’s degree refers to an educational program that generally covers some core classes in a particular field of study. A minor is a concentration that you acquire during your schooling as a secondary field of study.

Associate’s degrees generally take two years to acquire, although the time frame can be more or less depending on your schedule and the amount of time you want to allocate to school. Minors are generally part of a four-year degree program and most often associated with bachelor’s degrees, which is an undergraduate degree.

Do You Get a Degree for a Minor?

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You do not get a degree for a minor. Since minors are intertwined with majors, students receive a degree for their primary concentration, and the minor is often mentioned on their transcripts. You can’t get a degree for a minor independent of your major.

Minors are usually not mentioned on diplomas, but you can certainly prove that you have one by providing college transcripts to prospective employers after you graduate.

Although minors are not considered degrees, they may still be valuable in showing that students have a variety of interests, range of personality, and the drive to complete additional areas of study. They may also help candidates secure a niche for themselves in a particular field.

Choosing Your Major Degree & Minor Degree

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Choosing a major and minor are two of the most important steps in making the most of your academic journey. Your major is the field of study that you will be working within over the course of your time in college, so it should be something that you are genuinely passionate about.

Your minor can complement your major or be a completely different field of study. It’s totally up to you.

If you’re stuck, simply check out what other students have paired together for their majors and minors. You might find a combination that resonates strongly with you.

It’s never too late to get on the right career path. With so many online options and flexible class schedules, anyone can go back to school! If you’ve always wanted to pursue a career path but have been nervous about doing it, now may be the time to apply.

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Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.