Monday, January 12, 2015

Majors, Minors, Certificates and Your Path to a Career

The Basics

A major is a specific subject area that college students choose to specialize in, and it will help prepare students for their careers after college.

When applying to college, do not panic when it comes to selecting a major. Many students go into college undecided. At most four-year colleges, students have until the end of sophomore year to declare a major. This gives students plenty of time to take a range of classes to find an area of interest.
However, if you know what you would like to focus in, go ahead and declare your major, and if your mind changes later on, that's okay too. Most students switch their major during college.

There are two different general categories of majors; career-oriented and liberal arts.

Career-oriented majors:
Students in these majors are being prepared for a very specific career. Nursing is a great example of a career-oriented major. These students learn explicit skills needed to pass a licensing exam and to ultimately become a nurse.
Career-oriented majors typically have specific course requirements. Most classes will be related to the major.
Some other examples of career-oriented majors are:
  • Culinary Arts
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Commercial Art

Liberal arts majors:
Liberal arts is an umbrella term -- meaning that a wider variety of classes fall under the decided major. Students who choose liberal arts majors aren't necessarily on a narrow path to a specific career, rather they are open to more variation.
Some examples of liberal-arts majors and careers that they may lead to are:
  • English: editor, writer, playwright
  • History: museum registrar, researcher, archivist
  • Political Science: consumer affairs, international relations, elected public official
  • Psychology: counselor, laboratory assistant, psychologist
Career Center is a great website in which you can learn about the various careers that different liberal arts majors can lead to.

At most colleges, students have the opportunity to double-major, add a minor, create a new major, and earn a certificate.

Taking on two majors is a lot of work, but has potential for a greater reward.
Students who choose to double-major must critically map out their four-year plan. Each class must be chosen wisely -- some classes may overlap and count for double credit. It is important to set up a meeting with an advisor to map out a precise schedule if you want to graduate on time.
** Do not declare a double-major if you are just unable to decide between two different majors. That's not the point.
A double major is meant to give students a broader base and a potential for a more competitive advantage when it comes to searching for jobs. Students who double-major tend to pick two majors that can work together for a desired career.

A minor is similar to a second major, but requires fewer classes. Some departments even require students to select a minor to go along with their major. Adding a minor is important if a student with a liberal arts major want an area of focus.
For example, a student with a dance major may want to consider a minor in business administration if he or she would like to start up a dance studio after college.
Some other examples of minors are:
  • Film
  • World Religions
  • Business
  • Applied Nutrition
Create your own major
This opportunity often goes unnoticed. If you really are passionate about something, but your college doesn't offer a major for it, see if you can create your own -- some colleges allow this, but some do not.
When creating a major, students have the freedom and responsibility of selecting a variety of classes that fit to the desired outcome.
**Creating a degree requires an application process -- this will vary depending on the school. Talk to an adviser or school official to see what is needed to be done.

Certificate Programs
Getting a certificate is not the same as getting a minor. College certificate programs are designed for students who are interested in learning a specific subject or skill in a short amount of time.
Some examples of certificates are:
  • Diversity studies
  • Political communication
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Global leadership
See how these are more specific than most majors/minors? Once you're accepted into a certificate program, you will be taking a few very specific classes that pertain to the certificate title.
**Some certificate programs require application.

When planning for the future, remember that it is important to truly enjoy what you do. Making a hefty salary is great, but what's not great is having to dread going to work every day.
Too many students pick a major based on the money and wind up working jobs that they wish they weren't. College is a time for you to explore -- take classes that interest you. You will know when you find the path that is meant for you.

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