Some students come to college already knowing the kind of career they want to pursue when they graduate; other students come to college with little or no idea what will be next for them after earning their degree. Neither situation is better or worse than the other.
EXAMPLEPerhaps you’ve always wanted to be a nurse, or a teacher, or an electrical engineer, and you’re focused and determined to point your education in that direction—that’s great!
For other students, higher education represents a range of possibilities and the opportunity to discover who they want to be professionally by exploring different fields of study. This is a perfectly acceptable approach to your education.
Recall the discussion of elective and required courses—higher education can be construed either as the specific path toward a chosen career or as a more general learning experience.
However, be aware that many schools will require you to select a focus of study, or “declare a major,” within a certain time frame—this is generally by the end of your sophomore year at a four-year college. So even those students who come to college with an open mind in terms of a major will need to balance a sense of exploration with a sense of focus.
A major is the specific field of study or subject area—like Psychology, Business, or History—that a student chooses to focus on. Each major has specific requirements in terms of which classes a student must take and complete to fulfill their course of study. So your choice of major is central in shaping your experience in higher education because it determines the kinds of classes you will spend a majority of your time in and the people, both classmates and instructors, you will spend a lot of your time with.
Your choice of major is not just important in terms of the experiences you have while you’re at school, though. Because it identifies your area of specialization and expertise when you earn your degree, your major is a big part of your qualifications for opportunities after graduation.
Other majors, like Philosophy or English, don’t really have an associated profession (you might call yourself a philosopher, but the only ways to be paid money for doing philosophy are to teach, write books, or give lectures), but employers may value the skills—critical thinking, writing, and creativity, for example—that those majors help students develop.
Most college students will have to choose and “declare” a major in order to earn their degrees. Choosing a minor, on the other hand, is usually optional.
A minor is an additional, secondary area of specialization. If you’re not required to have a minor, why would you decide to pursue one?
In general, there are two reasons a student would seek a minor: