When I was in high school, I knew relatively early-on that I wanted to pursue engineering in college in any shape or form. I knew I wanted to work with my hands and bring positive change to the world through my work. However, everyday discussions about different subjects like climate change, software development, and the unknown world of “space” influenced me to deviate away from engineering and pursue those subjects. They were interesting, and I knew I wouldn’t regret learning about something new; however, engineering remained my priority and the forefront of what I wanted to study.
I began researching more about ways that I could pursue engineering while studying topics that intrigued me. Lo and behold! I stumbled across pursuing a minor.
What is a minor?
Think of a minor as a mini-major. Minors are a set of courses you take to enhance your major or pursue a subject that interests you. According to Josh Moody, a reporter who covers college admissions and international education for U.S. News, “experts say [students] shouldn’t overlook the importance of determining a minor.”
Universities have different minors, but they often outnumber the majors offered and allow students to study across various disciplines and pursue their passions outside of major-related courses. Upon entering college, a student has the ability to pick and choose from an extensive amount of topics and concentrations.
Richard Miller, a Professor of Psychology at Texas A&M University Kingsville, writes in Choosing a Minor: Why, What and When:
“One of the advantages about the undergraduate experience is that it allows the student to pursue interests that don’t fall directly in line with the major so that a student could use the minor to help develop avocational interests as well as interests that may make them more attractive to an employer or graduate program. Another good reason for selecting a minor is that it can give the student a competitive advantage in the job market or as a candidate for graduate school.”
As a freshman in college who is on a path to figuring this important topic out, here are four things I’ve learned and recommend considering when deciding what minor to determine.
1. Pursue Your Passion
College is essentially a hub of study, academic intrigue and the freedom to study whatever you want, whenever you want. Apart from your career or life interests, take the time to utilize the resources available to study something that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to elsewhere.
If you want to experiment with being spontaneous, consult minoring in a subject of your choosing. If you’ve always been interested in film, pursue a minor in Film & Media Studies! Inspired to continue learning that instrument you’ve been playing? Minor in Music! How about expanding that foreign language you took in high school that you enjoyed? Many colleges have minors for various languages that intrigue you. More knowledge and understanding in various subjects that drive and motivate you to study will only enhance your ability to connect more with others and enrich your ability to think diversely.
Stanford University’s undergraduate advising program finds that taking classes outside of your expected major helps you make connections between methodologies and approaches, draw insights from exploring a subject from unorthodox angles, and acquire competencies that can increase resiliency throughout the journey of life-long learning.
2. Learn Technical Skills
The rapid advancement of humankind and an increased reliance on technology should encourage students to use the minors offered at a university to pick up useful technical skills that may come in handy in the future, especially computer science. As society continues to advance in the world of technology, finding a minor that can enhance your technical skills could overall benefit your opportunities. Computer science is just one of these fields that could be of great benefit because of how fast computers are advancing. Knowing how to work with them, improve them and repair them can give you an advantage most might not have because you are adjusting with the quick pace of applied science. This is just one of many examples of minors you can investigate to set yourself up for your future, so think about how your minor can apply to our technologically shifting world.
3. Enhance your Major
Minors are a means of enriching your major and becoming more skilled in an industry with a concentration in a specific subfield or area of study. The more specialized you become, the more of an asset you are to a company, corporation, or agency.
Consider pursuing a minor that calls for a unique train of thought or approach. Learning interpersonal skills and the value of how to think and solve complex problems can be effectively applied to many majors or fields of study. An example of enhancing your major with a minor is pursuing a study in Sustainable Development alongside a major in Earth and Environmental Engineering. Both major and minor complement and enhance each other, but they still remain distinct. Earth and Environmental Engineering deals more with the hands-on approach to solving the growing problems of the environment, while Sustainable Development answers proactive questions surrounding the future and ways to combat climate change now instead of later. Merging both reactive and proactive majors helps strengthen an individual’s ability to identify solutions, given varying conditions and circumstances.
4. Maximize on Opportunity
Minors at various universities are often built around taking a set of courses to complete the minor. However, these are classes that other students will also take, and chances are you might take some of them for your major requirements. Review the needs for your major carefully and cross check them with other minors. If your major requires you take four courses that happen to be four of six classes to achieve a minor, take the remaining two and bam! You now have both a major and minor by taking only two additional courses. Double-counting classes towards a minor and major is incredibly helpful. Not only does it save money on paying for classes and credits; it also gives you the flexibility to showcase your academic achievements to an employer and become a better asset.
More benefit than harm
All in all, minors can become your best friend. You can pursue one minor or two, but no matter the subject, minors offer more benefit than harm. Sure, you might have to put in the effort for one or two more classes, but those extra courses can set you apart from a pile of other applicants who are competing for a job or program and serve to emphasize your ability to think outside of the box.
The main takeaway is to pursue your passions. College isn’t meant to be late nights and stressful days. Use the time you have to delve deeper into a subject you once thought of pursuing (or maybe something you never thought) and grow as a person in understanding and knowledge.
Aiman Najah is currently a Freshman at Columbia University in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, pursuing Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science (CS). A Boston native who is originally from Morocco, Aiman loves exploring the city, trying new foods, and meeting new people. As a longtime fan of cars and comic books, Aiman credits his passion for Engineering to science fiction and the role the genre can play in technological advancement. On campus, Aiman is part of the Formula SAE club where he serves as an automotive engineer, designing new brake pads and rotors as well as improving brake plumbing. Aiman also serves as the Community Liaison for Engineers Without Borders and is a tour guide and student interviewer with the Engineering Recruitment Committee.