Majors versus minors
August 23, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Is getting a minor in college worth anything?

I've been oscillating between various permutations of the same majors and minors in college, and I'm trying to figure this out.

Right now, I'm working towards a BS in Economics with minors in Psychology, Sociology, and Computer Science. I'm a bit worried that I'm doing something wrong, but I'm not sure what. I can't talk to an adviser easily because I'm still officially in my school's college of engineering (the result of a bit of confusion over how to do a double major.)

Right now, I'd ideally like to go into research and academia, but I recognize that the job prospects in that field aren't exactly the greatest, so I'd like to leave my options open to a decent job in a field of my interest. I'm a bit confused, overall.
posted by LSK to Education (41 answers total)
The short answer? No. I mean, for the majority of students, your major won't even matter. My suggestion: if you have a focused secondary interest that you just want to pursue because the classes are interesting to you, great - take the minor along, throw it on the resume, and treasure the cool knowledge you got. But don't lose sleep over what it will mean career-wise.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2010

Not really. I have a major in poli sci, and a minor in dance, which I think is pretty neat!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:30 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't really give you a definitive, scientifically based answer, only a couple data points: Yes, I have known people who got jobs specifically because of their blend of major/minor that gave them a particular background. I don't think it's true your major won't matter if you are in the sciences. So I'd say if it's easy to do and won't require you to put in extra semesters you can't afford, go for it. But there are probably other important things you can be working on as well: internships, research experience. Those would be more worthwhile to put extra effort into, if it comes down to a choice.
posted by unannihilated at 12:32 PM on August 23, 2010

Your minor can really matter if you want to go into research, because you'll be getting an MA or PhD. Many grad programs will want you to have taken X number of credits in what you're applying to study. So let's say you finish and decide you want to study economics from a psych perspective instead of in an Econ program, you might have to go take a few credits in the field, unless you did a minor in it.
posted by jardinier at 12:33 PM on August 23, 2010

I agree with the above answers, mostly.

If you had a very specific career in mind (e.g. designing economic modeling software or working as an economist for a specific social group that needed an expert on their demographic) then your minor could make a difference. But given the diversity of your mentioned ideas above, I'm going to nth the above.
posted by Lifeson at 12:33 PM on August 23, 2010

Majors do matter for some jobs, but minors don't seem to count for squat other than the odd "oh, really? that was my minor."

What I wish I could have done back in the day: look up some of your dream jobs on or a similar website, and look at what majors the employers request. My sense is that two majors would be much, much better than three minors.

Many computer jobs request a BA in Comp Sci (or equivalent experience; with the right experience and skills, no one cares). But very few jobs seem to request a BA in Sociology or Psychology--unless you're going to pursue a master's.
posted by blazingunicorn at 12:34 PM on August 23, 2010

A minor is basically a convenient way of saying "I have a strong interest in this field, in addition to my major." You can also do that with a mix of classes that interest you and an ability to describe your passion to a prospective employer/internship, but the usefulness of a minor is (with a handful of infrequent exceptions) going to fall between "little" and "none."
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:36 PM on August 23, 2010

My understanding is that the minor means very little, if anything. I went through most of college with a major in Communications and a minor in English, until it was pointed out to me what a lame major everyone thinks Communications is, so I tacked on a few more English classes and turned the minor into a second major. I now tell people that I double-majored in English and Communications.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:37 PM on August 23, 2010

I did a double major and a minor. It would have been better to be an active member of 1 department, really get to know the faculty and get better LoRs. I was too spread out.
posted by k8t at 12:37 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got my B.A. without getting a minor and I don't feel like I've suffered for it. It didn't prevent me from being accepted to graduate school. On the other hand, if you were to eventually decide to pursue graduate study in a field other than your major then a minor might bring balance to your application. In your case, the additional classes in your various minors might even inform future areas of interest and research, I guess.

In principle, any classes that you take are valuable since they give you the opportunity to become familiar with new ideas. But really, the answer is no. Minors don't matter.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 12:42 PM on August 23, 2010

A minor is the university's way of tricking you into taking more classes then you can handle, hoping you will have to add another semester to complete your degree.

It's the Extended Warranty Plan of academia.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:43 PM on August 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

My minor in math helped me get into math graduate school despite a business undergrad...
posted by ansate at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think Tomorrowful has put his finger on it. It's not terribly helpful, but it does help highlight a different area of interest than you major. In my case, I have a very academic major (Interdisciplinary Studies: Linguistics), with a very hands-on minor (geology). It is helpful as a talking point in interviews, especially when you need to make the case that you have some versatility beyond your primary education focus.
posted by Ys at 12:44 PM on August 23, 2010

For me (single major) minors seemed to come after 1. Major, 2. Experience (research and internships), and 3. GPA in importance. For going into academia, your focus should probably be on getting excellent recommendations from a few professors that will get you into a good PhD program. This means impressing your professors with excellent grades and excellent (publishable) work as a research assistant for them.

For overall confusion, Cal Newport's blog seems to have good advice.
posted by sninctown at 12:47 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My minor in Art History illustrated how the events of a time and place shape art, which shapes the society it was created in. It helps me think of new ideas when designing materials and has granted me a wider breath of knowledge about my general area of expertise (art and design). Mostly though, it taught me so much about the connections between society and its people and how those connections impact each other on large and small scales.

I can't say that having a Minor in Art History has directly impacted my salary, but to me it has been priceless for how much it has expanded my mind and knowledge and made me think.
posted by nomadicink at 12:48 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another anecdote: My undergraduate major was math. I took a lot of biology courses and did some research in computational and mathematical biology (one of the projects actually led to a publication). I skipped around enough in the bio department that I didn't qualify for a minor, but I think that in my subsequent education and employment people have cared way more about the research than they would have about the minor.

If you're headed for a career in academia, you might want to start thinking about doing something similar. Go to your professors' lab websites, see what they're working on, and (provided that you have a good relationship with a prof, and hopefully earned an A in their class) ask if there's a way you can contribute.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 12:53 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should do it because you're interested in it, not because of any potential reward down the line. I minored in English and that has certainly helped - it shows I know how to write, I'm comfortable with reports and can read and comprehend things quickly. I've found that in job interviews or discussions with bosses it makes me a more attractive employee.

That being said, I think it's more of a 'bonus point' on a job application, not something that would play a large part in their decision. If I'd done the minor specifically for better job prospects, I think I'd be disappointed in the returns so far. Since I did it out of interest, I'm quite happy to see that it's appreciated but not worried if it isn't.
posted by twirlypen at 12:59 PM on August 23, 2010

Sometimes, to some extent a minor can indicate that you have another useful skillset that can be used in combination with one's major. I know people who majored in econ and also got CS minors, and found that this combination helped them in the job market. The same is also true of some of the people I know with psych majors/CS minors who are working in some form of web development. I suspect that listing a minor, then a joint major in math/CS has prevented my resume from being tossed out by employers who would assumed on the basis of my (social sciences) major that I wasn't appropriately quantitatively inclined.
posted by thisjax at 1:01 PM on August 23, 2010

I'd like to slightly qualify my answer. If you have a very specific notion of the career you want or what you want to study, then maybe your undergrad minor might be a little cake icing when you go to apply for programs or jobs or whatever. For example, in your specific case, your minors, combined with your BS in Econ major, could set you up well to enter a PhD program in something like cutting-edge marketing and market analysis which could also be very lucrative as you wouldn't have to be a PhD working in academia...PhDs in advanced brainwashing can make bank.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2010

I have a major in a business-related field, and a minor in sociology. I opted for the latter at the cost of a heavily overloaded course load because business was driving me a little bit insane, and sociology was something I was interested in. At basically every job interview I've had, potential employers inevitably seem curious about the seeming incongruity of business and sociology, and it's a fantastic talking point.

So my anecdotal answer is that it shows that you're engaged and interested. If you're going into academia or research, however, your specific undergrad won't matter so much as your relationship with people in your department.
posted by Phire at 1:03 PM on August 23, 2010

BS in economics with a minor in Math would be good preparation for Economics grad school. Having multivariate calculus, differential equations and linear algebra under your belt is a great foundation for stuff you need know at that level.

A BS in Comp Sci would help you with R and SAS programming from a data mining and cleaning perspective, but CS is not necessarily directly transferable.

Sociology and Psychology are about as useful in an economics professional career as a minor in 13th Century Mongolian Yurt Design or Prenatal Hip Dislocation - neither of which are useful.

Disclosure: I work with masters level economists doing econometric modeling. (I am a Computer Engineer, going back for masters in applied mathematics in 2011... with a culinary degree.)
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2010

If you go into research, a minor in stats or other CS methods with some advanced courses beyond your major would be eye catching to graduate schools. Other minors would not matter, mostly.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:19 PM on August 23, 2010

Instead of approaching it as "Will anyone notice this on my resume?", maybe you should approach a potential minor as "What helpful skills will getting a minor force me to develop?"

For example, I have a minor in Political Science - not really even noticeable next to my BS in Computer Science. No one has ever asked me about my minor in interviews. However, I have noticed that I can write technical documents better than some of my peers who only have a BS in CS. While I'd like to believe that I was a good writer without my minor, writing out long essays probably furthered my skill in that area.

I think a minor in CS would be beneficial in a variety of positions, since it seems all jobs use computers to some degree. Even if your main tool is Excel, being able to write out a VB Script to automate s task in your job cannot be a bad thing. A minor in business might help you understand why your boss is making a specific decision.
posted by meowzilla at 1:21 PM on August 23, 2010

Sometimes, to some extent a minor can indicate that you have another useful skillset that can be used in combination with one's major.

I think this is the case. Most people probably know minors don't mean much, but it's an easy way to describe that you have a mild interest or basic knowledge in something. No one's going to think someone with a Spanish minor is fluent, but it makes the point in a more concise and better sounding way than saying "I know a little bit of Spanish."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:26 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

3 minors seems like overkill to me - it suggests that you lack a comprehensive education in any of them. 1 or 2 (max) carefully chosen minors can add both breadth and depth to the package you are offering to the job market/academia. The computer science minor is especially helpful, because it suggests that you have a skill set that not everyone has. The same could be said about sociology or psychology if are intending to apply to graduate programs that have a focus on economics and soc/psych. The meaning of a psychology or sociology minor varies from school to school - at some schools they might be a great accomplishment, at other schools all they show is that you picked all of your bird courses from the same program.
posted by fermezporte at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with fermezporte. If you look at the answers of people who think minors are useful, they almost all say "a minor," singular. Three minors? If your resume came across my desk I'd dismiss you as a dilettante.
posted by cabingirl at 1:34 PM on August 23, 2010

As a prospective econ PhD, I can tell you about the scene for job and research opportunities in economics, but not as much about the other fields. And for econ at least, minors don't matter much.

Right out of undergrad, a B.S. in economics will leave you with lots of job possibilities in business, consulting, finance, as well as any other liberal-artsy kinds of jobs that don't require a specific major. You can also look for a job as an economic research assistant at a university, think tank, or federal agency (think Fed branches, treasury, commerce, etc.) if you want to spend a couple more years figuring out if a research career is right for you.

To have a research career in economics, you pretty much need to get a PhD. PhD programs don't care about minors, and they don't even really care much about your major. What they care about is *math*, lots and lots of math: multivariable calculus, real analysis, linear algebra, differential equations, probability and statistics...They also care about intermediate micro, macro, and econometrics, and they want you to get mostly As in all of these classes. I recommend this blog for learning more.

If you're interested in other topics too, then by all means, pursue them: take the classes that interest you most and don't let the minor requirements restrict you.
posted by sashapearl at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2010

I found Computer Science to have so many prereqs (sure, I came to college with 2 years of Calculus... but that's not the same as discrete math), that there's far too many courses to wade through to get to anything of real importance. I'm be equally leery of minoring in anything that has a 4-year major (as opposed to a 2-year). You may be better off picking and choosing classes of interest in this field, rather than following the course catalog for the minor, especially if you already have practical skills in comp sci.

I suggest investigating the option of certificate programs / concentrated areas of study that synergize with your major. To use my degree of music as an example, we had certificates in religious music, etc.
posted by Wossname at 2:05 PM on August 23, 2010

Somewhat uncommonly (and quite anecdotally), my minor helped me land a job my major had no applicability towards.
posted by Hurst at 2:05 PM on August 23, 2010

I've met more people that majored in fields completely unrelated to their careers than people that minored in their career field.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:18 PM on August 23, 2010

Both my major (religious studies) and my minor (human sexuality) have been wonderful, just for the knowledge, but useless otherwise. (POR - I've been out of school for more than 20 years and have never used either)
posted by Sophie1 at 2:24 PM on August 23, 2010

It can be a good talking point during job interviews. I majored in history with a minor in music. During job interviews, it gave me a good opportunity to talk about how I had a strong proclivity for research and writing, but have always had a creative side.
posted by DrDreidel at 2:32 PM on August 23, 2010

Being a former employer, I agree with Lifeson above.

If both are specific to your job field, then yes it looks good. If they are completely unrelated, then no, it doesn't matter.

Religious studies/human sexuality for example, would be helpful for someone looking to hire a writer or someone to study sex in religious cultures and otherwise probably not so helpful.

History/music would be great for a music history teacher. Even if the major wasn't literally music history.

Good luck!
posted by magnoliasouth at 3:04 PM on August 23, 2010

If both are specific to your job field, then yes it looks good. If they are completely unrelated, then no, it doesn't matter.

My major was a really broad studio art (Interdisciplinary Arts), so my minor in Women's and Gender Studies was useful because it formed an overall concentration between studio art and theory.

When I applied for my postgrad I had a lot more programs to choose from than I would have initially had with just my major alone, and now I'm getting my MA in Contemporary Art Theory.
posted by _superconductor at 3:44 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A minor is the college's way of telling you the number of classes you should take if you are interested or need "some" expertise in a subject. Your career personal interest is what would dictate if the minor is useful or not. In the academic route, if you are proposing research that involves economics and these other three fields, then yes a minor is good. I am not sure that you need the credited minor in psychology and sociology but that is just my opinion. The computer science will be very helpful if you plan on going into the mathematics and research setting in economics due to the data crunching.

So in my opinion:

Your university advises you to take "x" courses in your minor for your benefit and they will give you an extra note on your degree. This is helpful if it directly benefits your research goals in graduate school. All three of those are helpful but you may not need them officially in your future studies. They are after all guidelines and not required. The computer science seems more useful to me because it says, "hey! I know how to program and integrate mathematics in my work." The psychology and sociology, although extremely useful in economics, do not really seem to make you stand out for a lab or graduate program unless they are integral to your research goals. Maybe pick one to pursue the "credit" for and the other to take for extra classes. It doesn't mean you can't point out later that you have a good background in the one you leave out.

Good luck!
posted by occidental at 4:16 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, is knowing stuff worth anything? If yes, then yes, if no, then no.

I was a double major. Two completely different art degrees. Because of scheduling issues I graduated one credit away from a minor in writing, so no one knows or probably cares that I "almost minored" in writing. However, a visual artist who can also write well is a rare thing, and that does get noticed.
posted by cmoj at 5:04 PM on August 23, 2010

My minor in Spanish gave me enough hours a day of speaking and reading Spanish to actually learn the language, so much so that I passed the state teaching exam and am now qualified to teach it, along with my major subject, English. As I live in FLorida and have also passed the ESOL exam, I am now (at least) twice as marketable in K-12 eduation.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:00 PM on August 23, 2010

If I hadn't had a minor (in math), I think I would still have been accepted to graduate school (in applied math) based on my major (in engineering). However, my graduate classes would have been much, much harder without the additional background.

This is merely a specific example of a general principle. I'm currently in a fantastic job working on programs (mostly in a language I taught myself in depth) doing statistics (based on concepts I learned outside of class) on hypersonic flow problems (discussed in classes I took for fun in graduate school) for my mathematics research (based on a minor I took for fun as an undergrad). You never know what will turn out to be useful later, but it's a pretty good bet that any knowledge will be.

On the other hand: three minors? I didn't get a double-major as an undergrad because the extra half-dozen semester-hours would have seriously impacted my ability to focus on and understand the courses I did take. If you can handle the workload, great, but make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew. And note the self-taught, "outside of class" bits above: when I've been invited to teach concepts that I was never officially taught myself, nobody cared that the material wasn't on my transcript.
posted by roystgnr at 7:33 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I landed my dream job because of my minor. My college did not offer a print journalism degree, but had a "mass communications" degree that centered on broadcast journalism, which I didn't want. The minor, however, focused near-entirely on print journalism, so I opted for an English major with a minor in journalism, and got a job as a newspaper reporter within about a month out of college.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:52 PM on August 23, 2010

Why not drop two of the minors and make the third one a second major? Probably about the same amount of effort, and it looks more focused.
posted by naoko at 1:10 AM on August 24, 2010

minors mean nothing.
posted by seanmhobson1988 at 12:17 PM on August 25, 2010

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