Majors and Minors: How Do I Choose What is Right for Me?
Choosing your undergraduate major can feel like a major decision. Majors and minors are programs of study that determine what courses you will take during your four years of university. For example, a student majoring in astronomy would be required to take a certain number of courses (both introductory and upper-level) in this field and ultimately, he or she will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in astronomy.
On the other hand, a student wishing to complete a minor in astronomy will take only a few courses in astronomy. Another crucial difference is that you must declare a major while minors are optional. This statement comes with an asterisk though: different schools will have different rules. For example, University of Toronto undergraduates must be enrolled in either two majors or one major and two minors.
I would be doing you a disservice if I did not mention that the University of Toronto offers a third program option called specialists. This is like a more specialized major. The chart below indicates how many credits a student needs in order to fulfill each type of program. (A credit is earned after passing a course, but note that some courses earn you one full credit while others earn you half a credit.) As you can see, enrolling in a specialist program in astronomy means that over half of all your courses will be in astronomy.
|Minor||Major||Specialist||Number of credits needed to graduate|
|4.0 credits||6.0 to 8.5 credits||9.0 to 16.0 credits||20.0|
Now that you have a better of idea of what majors and minors are, the next question is naturally how to choose. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Start with your interests and strengths.
The first thing you should do is read through the list of undergraduate fields of study, from A to Z. Make sure to read through the program descriptions. The goal of this step is to create a long-list of possibilities based on your interests and strengths. If the list is really long, divide this list into two lists: subjects you are passionately interested in and subjects that you have a more passing interest in.
- Familiarize yourself with your school’s selection instructions.
Not every field of study will be offered as a major or minor (or specialist). Some subjects are only offered as a specialist, while others may only be offered as a minor. For every subject on your list above, indicate if they are offered as a major, a minor, and/or a specialist. A subject you are really interested in, you will probably want to major in it.
Prerequisites are something else to research. Do not assume there are none. If you are interested in a particularly competitive major, you may even be required to complete an application. This is something you need to take into consideration, and it is naturally a good idea to have back-up choices for your major.
- Consider what you will do with your major after graduation.
This is a really complex issue. Because the workplace now may be quite different in four years when you graduate, it is difficult to say that a certain major will lead to a more promising career than another. It definitely helps to speak to third- and fourth-year students in a major you’re interested in—ask them what they feel their job prospects are like.
Or you may be considering graduate studies after your undergraduate degree, so you’re not immediately heading into the workplace. When selecting your major, you may want to meet with an academic advisor or mentor. These individuals have a wealth of experience and expertise in these matters.
Choosing your major is not an easy task. For some students, the choice is easy; for others, you can be stressing over this for months. The good news is that nothing is set in stone, you can change your major later. Also remember that you can probably double-major, so if you’re agonizing between computer science and zoology, why not major in both?
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