An extra year of.....what?
April 23, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

How useful would a minor be anyway?

I'm a sophomore in college, registering this Friday for my junior year classes, and I'm at a crossroads.

Thanks to a large collection of AP credits and smart planning, I only have 30 something units (2 moderate semesters) left before I complete both my GE and major requirements. However, I don't feel like graduating after my third year at only 20, so I plan to fill those extra two semesters in with more classes and stay another year.

I could:

A) Take whatever classes interest me. Because I managed to plan everything so well and double/triple count things, there are tons and tons of courses in my major (Psychology) I don't have to take but that I would love to take if I had the chance. There are also a number of random courses from other fields that seem very interesting. All in all though, they wouldn't add up to any new piece of paper.

B) Pursue a minor. I considered Biology but the amount of Chem classes scared me away. I feel as if Business would be a wise decision because it seems that it would be useful. I know this is dependent on what line of work I go into.

However, on that note, I'm not sure what I want to do. Research interests me, and I am deeply in love with my major, but I'm not convinced I want a life in academia. Doing something in the business world sounds feasible but the vision of repetitive cubicle work keeps me from fully committing to that option as well. I know, at least, that I don't want to do clinical/therapy. In truth, I'm not really sure what is out there. The point is though, I can't base my decision solely on my future career aspirations.

So, the question: How useful would a minor really be? I would derive much more enjoyment taking random classes, but I could still have a good time and do well focusing on a single minor if it were to help me out in the long run. Does anybody in the employment world really look at that stuff? Has having a minor ever helped anyone get ahead? Would a minor only be useful if obtained in certain fields? (I would think, for example, that focusing my energy on getting a minor in, say, Sociology would be less useful than most other majors, considering its close kinship with Psych)

My academic planning center wasn't much help. They basically said "It might help you, do whatever you want man." I was hoping that the large collection of MeFites who have already tread this path would be able to give me more perspective than my fellow peers or the old lady in the planning office.

Thank you for any feedback or answers!
posted by Defenestrator to Education (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a way to make a self-created minor? So you'd still have the extra line in your degree, but it's up to you how that looks like. Rather like an independent study thing.

My uni had the option of a Minor in Intercultural Exchange that you earned if you spent a semester overseas. Does yours have that option?
posted by divabat at 8:57 PM on April 23, 2008

I graduated last year with a major in geology and and minor in english. I did the minor because I enjoy it, not because it was meant to be useful or look good on a resume. I mean, why would a geologist need an english degree?

I loved it. I'd absolutely recommend doing a minor if you can find one that you'd enjoy for what it is, and not just for some perceived future benefit. If not, then just pursue the non-minor classes you think you'd like.

Since I've started talking to people and looking for jobs, however, I've found that the english minor is quite valuable. It shows I have a range of interests, it shows that I have a range of skills, and, though this is english specific and may not be relevant to what you want to study, many employers like that I've had a lot of experience in writing.

So yes, a minor can be useful when looking for work. If there's a minor you can do and that you would enjoy, I'd say go for it.
posted by twirlypen at 8:58 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation for my undergrad degree. I had all of the required courses for my major done by the time I finished the first semester of my senior year. I had planned to use the last semester to take some honors classes and a "specialization" for my major, but by the time I was signing up for the last semester's courses I had already landed a job, and nobody seemed to care if I did the extra work or not.

I instead decided to take a bunch of random courses that intereseted me that I didn't have a chance to take before because they weren't required for my major, and it was the best decision I ever made as far as planning out my path through college goes. Not only was it the most enjoyable semester of my college career, but I also think the last few classes made me a more well-rounded person instead of a more super-specialized nerd.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:00 PM on April 23, 2008

Does anybody in the employment world really look at that stuff?

Generally, no. Except for maybe a few specialized fields, when applying for jobs people won't even be looking at your transcripts. The only way I could think that a minor would be useful is if you wanted to pick up a specific skill set for career purposes, and it doesn't sound like that's what you want to do.

If you were sure you wanted to go into academia, then a minor *might* be helpful if only as further proof of your commitment to pursuing a course of study, but again, it's just not that big a deal.

I would say that if you're not intellectually attracted to a specific minor, then just take courses that you will enjoy (but not mess up your GPA just in case you do end up doing the grad school thing).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:03 PM on April 23, 2008

This was the subject of a very recent NYTimes article -- link.

Minors matter for some specific things (including teaching credentials in some places) but mostly are for show -- it demonstrates that you are serious about an area more clearly than just saying "I took 16 credit hours in this" does.

So if you want to major in psychology but plan to work in a company overseas, that minor in French or Latin American Studies will demonstrate a certain investment in something. And for some grad programs, having strategically picked your minor will be a good idea.

Honestly I think you should just take what interests you, and if that can congeal into a minor, so much the better. But don't spend a year taking things that don't interest you just so you can say you have a minor. For the most part, all that matters is whether you have a BA/BS or not -- your gpa and your major, much less your minor, will likely be of very minor importance for much of the rest of your life.
posted by Forktine at 9:04 PM on April 23, 2008

I thought I was getting a minor, but there was a technical snafu that my advisors weren't aware of till the last moment and I didn't feel like fighting for, so I put "concentration in blah blah blah" on my resume. It worked just the same and now a couple years out no one cares except for fun conversation tidbits.

Now, on another note though, most master's require a concentration and for just a few more classes got me a certificate. This particular certificate has ended up getting me many more jobs that my actual masters degree. It was smart without me thinking it was going to be smart. Getting what i consider a pretty lame masters but still being able to nap the jobs with the certificate.
posted by stormygrey at 9:05 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I started out as an English major and a medieval studies minor. I ended up using my medieval studies courses toward my major and not having a minor. Instead, I was able to take courses totally outside my major that interested me, like 20th century Korea. The lack of a minor has never come up in a job interview, and I don't feel like it's hindered me in any way. So my advice is, if you find a minor you like, go for it; if not, then have some fun and take the courses that interest you. It's likely you'll never have the opportunity to truly and completely indulge your intellectual curiosity and love of learning with this much freedom again.
posted by lemoncello at 9:06 PM on April 23, 2008

There's a Steve Jobs commencement address where he talks about his education at Reed College and how the ridiculous range of courses he got to take ended up helping him in ways he never imagined at the time - for example, he took a calligraphy class, which sparked his interest in attractive typefaces, which helped make the Mac (and the Lisa before it) what it was.

You might find that taking the random courses that interest you will give you even more of an edge in your career than the minor - and even if that's not how it turns out, this may be your last opportunity for many years to really dive into a lot of wide-ranging courses that intrigue you.

I'd encourage you to go for the interests over the minor.
posted by kristi at 9:10 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Many of my friends were helped by their minors. One had a major in math and a minor in comp sci -- this helped him get a job as a programmer. Another majored in professional writing and minored in comp sci -- this helped him get a job as a technical writer in a software company. Another friend combined a major in geography with a minor in communications, helping her to get into emergency and disaster management communications. Still another majored in communications and minored in business -- she went into marketing communications at a banking software company. I majored in English and minored in communications -- my resume spelled out my coursework in pricing, market research, marketing, accounting, etc. That helped me go into marketing. Other people pursue minors to help provide a back-up if they want to go into teaching. And it can also help you if you want to do a masters in a subject outside your major.

If you have a strong sense of where you want to go with your career, do a minor.
If you want to counter employers' fears that you are just another psych BA, do a minor in something they don't expect, such as business, some sort of science, comp sci or something "hard".
If you want to look more desirable to businesses, minor in business.
If you want to go into high tech, minor in comp sci.
If you don't know what you want to do or if you already think you have the resources to take you where you want to go, take a bunch of courses instead.

That being said, does your college offer internships, semesters abroad, co-operative education or a club that would nurture your interests and career goals? If you are concerned about graduating at just 20, you could build rich life and work experience in other ways.
posted by acoutu at 9:24 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

What's the major and what's the minor?

I majored in two biological sciences and philosophy, and minored in chem and did it in 4 years.

Those things didn't count for much for my career track. Do what you have to do to get into the life track that you have in mind right now.

Don't worry about fulfilling a minor; if you want to stay an extra year, use up that time taking classes that you might be interesting. History, Fine Arts, Poetry, Economics, Religion, Pyschology, whatever.

If there's a way to audit classes (no marks) where you are, audit a class you think might be interesting on a lark. If audit students still have their homework/exams marked (but not counted) where you are, go take something really challenging for you (for me, it'd be an upper levels maths class).
posted by porpoise at 9:33 PM on April 23, 2008

Nobody in the real world cares about minors. But you should still linger for the extra two semesters because it's fun. I did something similar, and took the time to do a study abroad program in Austria... one of the best times of my life.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:37 PM on April 23, 2008

In that amount of time I'd think you could do another major. Just a thought.
posted by crinklebat at 9:40 PM on April 23, 2008

acoutu is right. If you're not worried about paying for another year of college, spend it studying abroad somewhere. While it might be comforting to think about another year on your campus, doing whatever you want, you could get a lot more out of the time and money by expanding your horizons academically, yes, but also geographically and culturally. That is, assuming you're not already world-weary.

Also, are you interested in any graduate programs? You could be halfway through an MBA in a year.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:51 PM on April 23, 2008

If money is not an issue, I would absolutely stay the full 4 years.

Think about what skills to gain, or what classes are known to be really inspiring and great at your school. So:
-math or other quantitative skills classes.
-foreign language
-drawing 1

On the other side:
-survey of the English or western literary canon is a course everyone should take in college.
-intro geology was my favorite course in college and opened up a hobby that's with me to this day - it's a hard science but usually doesn't have the very high effort barrier that intro bio/physics does. Good science background will serve you well generally.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:27 PM on April 23, 2008

You mentioned that you *may* be interested in going into academia and that you love research. If this is even a remote possibility, I cannot encourage you enough to do an RAship. Most social science grad programs want to see that you've been an RA AND it also allows you to have 1 professor who knows you pretty well both academically and "professionally" (like how responsible you are) who can write a letter of recommendation for you.

All you need to do is ask your favorite profs if they need RAs.
posted by k8t at 10:28 PM on April 23, 2008

I was in the exact same situation as you're describing and I figured that a minor was pretty insignificant for what I wanted to do (go to medical school); I also didn't like college that much and wanted to save money, so I just finished in the 3 years and then went off to South Korea to teach English for a year. It was an amazing experience in all fronts and I grew up much more than I would have sitting around for a couple more chemistry classes. I also made money instead of losing it. Then I came back to the states and worked a bit and then started school not really farther behind my classmates in terms of age (and the degree doesn't matter once you're in school) but heaps ahead by having that amazing experience.
Just my 2 cents.
posted by shokod at 1:34 AM on April 24, 2008

I had a minor in... something. 15 years later, I cannot tell you what it is. It certainly was of no assitance to me in my career.

I'm nthing everyone who suggests using Year 4 to do something - a self-led program with an internship, or teaching overseas, or establishing and running a volutary project or what have you.

Having said that, first and foremost what you're getting is (I presume) a liberal arts degree. You are unlikely to have the opportunity to take Women's Studies or Pottery 101 or 20th Century South Korea again, and as the Steve Jobs example upthread indicates, these can be awesome, valuable, mind and world-view expanding experiences.

I honestly believe that people who treat their BA as vocational training or do highly structured degrees like pre-med are missing out on some of the most important aspects of liberal arts education. For this reason, I hate the British education system, but that is neither here nor there.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 AM on April 24, 2008

Are you someplace that has a graduate school, or that offers cross registration with another university? Use the extra year to start taking grad courses (most universities will let you take some while still an undergrad). Graduate work is substantially more valuable than a minor, even if you don't complete a grad degree. Plus, if you decide to go back for a Masters or PhD, you've got an early start on it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:03 AM on April 24, 2008

Minors can provide a little bit of interest on your resume when you're fresh out of school if they are in a completely different area than your major. But this is minimal, and not a good reason to pick one minor over another. (My small college didn't even have minors.)

Definitely stay. Take classes in both your field and in other areas that interest you.
posted by desuetude at 6:23 AM on April 24, 2008

How useful would a minor really be? I would derive much more enjoyment taking random classes, but I could still have a good time and do well focusing on a single minor if it were to help me out in the long run. Does anybody in the employment world really look at that stuff? Has having a minor ever helped anyone get ahead?

I had a business minor. It was single-handedly what got me the first five years of my career (seriously!). I realized that I really wasn't all that happy with my existing major but it was too late to change to a business major, so I got a business minor. Then, I went out and got an internship in marketing (only obtainable because of the minor, otherwise it would have gone to another student with the classroom experience). The minor and internships helped me land my first "real" marketing jobs, which required BAs in business (that I did not have). I know that your situation is different of course, but it's an example of how having a minor can help you get ahead.

A lot of places require a BA in an area related to the position. If you aren't certain that you are going to be utilizing your major upon graduation, it might be worth it to get a minor in an area you might utilize so that you have something in the relevant area on your resume. Plus, there's so much competition upon graduation these days that any little thing you can do to give yourself an edge is worth it.

More recently, when I was hiring my own marketing intern, the business major with the graphic design minor had an edge over the one without, since that's an area we don't have a lot of support in.

Obtaining a minor for personal enrichment is also really great. I was thisclose to a minor in urban sociology - except there was an internship requirement that I didn't complete. I knew it was never going to do anything for me but I really enjoyed the learning experience.
posted by ml98tu at 6:28 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a double-major in undergrad. The subjects were related fields and complimented each other well, as psych and bio would do for you. It's not quite the same thing, but I know it made grad school applications a lot easier.

It's not clear from your question if you are considering going into practice. If so, one option is to go the med school route and become a psychiatrist. If post-tertiary education is your next career step, it might make a lot of sense to do things that way.
posted by bonehead at 7:23 AM on April 24, 2008

Minors should be an interest of yours to persue. I would go back for a fall session and take a few classes in your minor while looking for some type of real job to start in the summer. Keep in mind your young, so you can do whatever you want.

If you realize that you really don't want to do school anymore and graduate after next fall, take that extra cash you would use for your 8th semester and travel for 2-6 months. You'll learn more than sitting in a classroom. ( I would do March April May June ).
posted by thetenthstory at 8:01 AM on April 24, 2008

From the perspective of someone who is involved in hiring fresh graduates, a minor tells me that the candidate has some ambition and discipline (which is good). A double-major is even better. I work at a research and consulting firm, and we hire psych majors sometimes when we're looking for generalist research assistants. A psych major who had a minor in stats or math or even computer science would have a huge edge over a typical psych major at my company.

I disagree with the idea that you'll never have another opportunity to take basket-weaving 101 - most major urban areas have adult ed centers that offer tons of classes for pretty short money, and there's no law that says you can't take classes as a non-degree student after you graduate. So my advice is to get a minor - or, if research might be in the cards, be a research assistant for one of your professors (we love to see that on a resume).
posted by acridrabbit at 8:49 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Short answer: Unrelated classes!

1) No one looks at minors.
2) For now, your resume should list "skills" and "relevant coursework" where you can list the things you were required to take, extra psych classes, or totally unrelated things that target specific markets you want to be hired in (e.g. business classes, if you're one of those Paco Underhill types).
posted by whatzit at 4:21 AM on April 25, 2008

This would be a great opportunity to show that you are a well rounded undergrad (as far as academics go). Go for classes that are not in the same 'category' as your major: go for more technical/ math / science classes.Ex: Take a programming language class or maybe Statistical analysis? Expand your horizons.
Depending on what you want to do after college, those few classes may end up setting you apart from all other psych majors competing for the same jobs / Masters programs. And it NEVER hurts to have statistics or Economics or Java programming, regardless of what you end up doing.
posted by KB.Boston_implant.By way of NY at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2008

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