What's a Major in College? Majors and Minors, Explained
A student’s major is often the first official determination of their desired career path. When successfully completed, it tells employers that the student dedicated the hours necessary to educate themselves in their chosen field or industry.
A minor is essentially a secondary interest students can choose to study, but it’s typically not required to graduate. A minor can complement the career a student is preparing for as they complete a major, or it can indicate an interest in something unrelated to their major.
Understanding what’s a major in college, deciding whether a minor may be beneficial, and researching majors that are most in demand today can help students as they plan their coursework, and ultimately, prepare for their future success.
What’s a Major in College?
A major is your chosen course of study. It’s a declaration of the career a student plans to pursue. For example, a student majoring in civil engineering may want to oversee public infrastructure projects like road and bridge-building. Someone who majors in business may want to work for a bank or manage a company. A student who studies biology may plan to apply to medical school. Someone who majors in journalism may want to work for a newspaper or in TV news, and so on.
To graduate from college and earn a degree, students generally must pass and complete 120 credit hours, which averages five courses (three hours each) per semester. For most college students, about half of those credit hours are dedicated to completing required courses for their major.
A student can major in business, engineering, biology, journalism, history, psychology, and dozens of other areas of focus. Within your major, schools typically offer various specializations. Someone majoring in business may focus on accounting and finance or human resources. Someone majoring in engineering may choose to specialize in civil engineering, chemical engineering, or robotics engineering, among other tracks, depending on their career goals. Students will typically declare their specialization upon declaring their major.
Most colleges require students to declare their major no later than the end of their sophomore year. Freshman year is typically reserved for general education classes to give students an opportunity to explore their interests and strengths, before eventually focusing on their major.
How is a Major Different From a Minor?
A minor is a secondary focus, and it’s optional at most four-year colleges and universities.
Perhaps a student decided to major in journalism but enjoys political science courses. Understanding political science can help a journalist who wants to cover politics as a reporter. Minoring in political science may help that student find a job covering politics after graduation because the minor suggests to the employer an advanced knowledge of political science.
Another example of a complementary minor is a business student with a minor in Spanish or some other foreign language. Being fluent in a second language can help a professional’s resume stand out from the competition during a job search in a crowded field of applicants.
Some students minor in a subject that interests them but is seemingly unrelated to their career path. For example, a minor in history may not be directly relevant to someone who plans to be a pediatrician.
Some students find it difficult to complete the requirements for their major and the additional requirements to earn a minor in four years. If a student can’t complete the coursework required for a major and minor in four years, the student should consider whether it’s worth the cost of extra semesters to complete a minor. Consider the payoff of the extra work and ask if it’s worth the extra time and money. Counselors at your college should be able to guide you through this decision process.
What Majors Are Most in Demand?
Luckily, when students ask themselves, “What’s a good major in college?” they have plenty of options to choose from. According to the Indeed employment website, “The 23 Top College Majors in Demand” include nursing, culinary arts, computer science, business administration, and marketing.
Earnings potential may also be a motivating factor when choosing your major and career. Among the top 20 highest paying professions are careers in engineering, accounting, computer science, pharmacy, and aerospace studies, according to PayScale. The majors with the lowest earnings potential include metalsmithing, early childhood education, mental health counseling, hospitality and culinary arts, ministry, social work, and health and human services. It is important to remember that you will likely be in a career for decades – pay is certainly a factor, but so is liking what you do.
College Foundation of North Carolina Can Help
Do you want to take a closer look at in-demand jobs in North Carolina? NCcareers.org has detailed information about the best jobs and careers in the state based on wages, projected growth rate, and job openings. Use your CFNC credentials to access free online resources, including career assessments and information about in-demand jobs.
Whatever your goals and dreams are, College Foundation of North Carolina can help you prepare for your future.