What are you planning to major in in college? Have you ever asked yourself if you should also have a minor? Do minors matter? Would it be worthwhile to pursue your passion as a minor while having your college major be something else? The answer might be “yes,” depending on your major and your goals.
If grad school is something you’re considering, a minor may help you stand out with graduate school admission representatives. If you’re planning to seek a job immediately after earning your undergraduate degree, a minor may be able to demonstrate a well-rounded skill set. With the help of Dr. Zachary Waggoner, Associate Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University, we put together a list of five reasons it could be more beneficial to minor, rather than major, in your area of interest.
1. Emphasizing your work ethic to potential employers
If there’s more than one field you’re interested in, getting a minor in one of them can show that you put in the extra effort required to not just complete a major field of study, but the necessary work to have a minor. There’s almost no downside to having a minor as long as you’re willing to put in the work necessary for success.
Having a minor isn’t a necessity in most cases, but it can be beneficial as a compliment to one’s major, providing a potential competitive advantage in the job market. A New York Times article from 2008 titled “What’s Your Minor?” argues academic minors are, “increasingly popular as students try to master multiple subjects on the way to flexible careers or future education.”
Especially if you have an interest a major in business, engineering, science or related field, a minor in a liberal arts or humanities field may help a graduate stand out amongst their peers and clearly demonstrate diverse interests and proficiencies.
2. Future-proofing your skill set for a shifting job market
There’s a good chance that you’ll change jobs and or even career industries at some point in your life. The job you will hold a decade from now may not even exist yet today. A 2014 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found the ideal skills sought by employers include things like leadership, interpersonal communication and critical and creative thinking. These are broad proficiencies which, though possibly covered in an indirect way, wouldn’t be the central focus of a major in a highly specialized discipline like English literature or math.
Minoring in the subject you’re passionate about while majoring in a more broadly applicable or flexible discipline may allow for greater opportunities when change becomes necessary in the future. Furthermore, a minor can cultivate different skills and encourage you to think in ways that may seem unconventional in your major field. Unconventional thinking can lead to creative problem solving.
3. Adding extra versatility to a major
Dr. Zachary Waggoner argues that minoring in a field emphasizing communication and intellectual creativity can be a great compliment to a major in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). Pursuing minor like this can cultivate abstract thinking and openness to debate and contemplation. These, the professor says, are the backbone of problem solving and effective communication.
Waggoner also said minoring, rather than majoring, in a subject from the liberal arts can hold “a tremendous value.” This is especially true for prospective students who may be interested in the arts as well as business or a field in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”
“A minor in art, communications, English or history can prevent what Kenneth Burke called ‘occupational psychosis,’ leading to trained incapacities,” he added. “Creativity suffers when such trained incapacities rule out new ways of thinking. Many professional fields have very codified ways of approaching problems and these norms can be very difficult to circumvent for people steeped in their field’s traditions.”
4. Preventing against “silo-ing” your skills
Waggoner added that majoring in one’s main interest without pushing oneself into other academic disciplines leads to over-specialization, which can lead to a “silo-ing” of one’s mind.
“Specialization that focuses on terminology highly specific to one field, rigid ways of thinking and a limited number of ways to address issues or problems, for instance, can limit the ability to identify possibilities. In other words, it becomes hard for a scientist to notthink like a scientist or an accountant to notthink like an accountant. And of course, many scientists will need to be able to think like non-scientists: to write scientific articles for lay readers, for example. The same is true for the accountant, the financial analyst, the mathematician or the engineer. A minor can open up possibilities to see the world through a different lens.
5. Prepping to communicate with people outside of your expertise
Dr. Waggoner said that, while at Stanford, he could see that the university was continually looking for ways to help STEM students, communicate their ideas to people not in their same professional field.
“We would often encourage students to take liberal arts courses where clear communication and audience awareness were the focus. In the rhetoric and writing program we also created short videos to share in which we interviewed STEM faculty members discussing the importance of clear communication and strong writing skills. Because most students at Stanford and throughout the nation must take some English courses, they do get some formal writing instruction. Another writing course here or there can also be helpful, but declaring a minor can allow the student to delve deep into the subject matter and really pursue their potential.”
Dr. Waggoner sees effective communication skills and persuasive writing ability as, crucial to nearly every profession. “If [a student’s] school provides a specialization in rhetoric and writing, this is especially beneficial… Rhetoric can encourage writers to see their work from their audience’s point of view and use creativity and intellectual rigor to persuade diverse audiences. This offers nothing but benefits both personally and professionally.”
The potential costs (and benefits) of a minor
Completing a major is a lot of work. Adding the work necessary to complete a minor may seem beneficial but will it be worth the effort? Would you be better off working at least part time, getting an internship, or completing a community service project? You may have a sound plan for completing the minor but if the dedication to that minor actually works as road block to other opportunities, you may want to reconsider.
If you decide pursuing a minor in addition to a major is the right decision, don’t make the choice spontaneously. Discuss your plans with family and friends, academic advisers and teachers. In the end, only you can decide if a minor, and a major in a different area of study, matters for you and only you can decide if putting in the extra work to declare and complete a minor is worth the reward.
- “What’s Your Minor?” The New York Times. November 23, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/guidance?pagewanted=all&_r=0Interview with Dr. Zachary Waggoner. November 21, 2014. Conducted by Nick White, November 2014
- “UCLA Undergraduate Minors.” University of California, Los Angeles. November 24, 2014. http://www.admissions.ucla.edu/prospect/Majors/lsminor
- “Job Outlook 2015,” National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 2014
- Interview with Zachary Charles Waggoner, Associate Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University. Interview conducted by Nick White, November 2014