For this post, I thought I would cover a somewhat daunting topic that I am well-acquainted with – the minor/double major option. I hope to illuminate some of the many reasons people have for minoring, different perspectives on why it can be beneficial, and other tips on how to best plan for these when pursuing a major in the College of Biological Sciences.
Just for some personal context, I am currently pursuing a double major in Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity (EEB) and Spanish. While I initially only committed myself to a minor in Spanish, I was able to make a double major work with some finessing and willingness to take a few Summer courses. I was also able to skip a good amount of prerequisite coursework due to taking AP Spanish in High School — which was a fortunate happenstance that has helped make double majoring possible for me. While some majors with smaller unit requirements may be feasible to do alongside a CBS major, it does take a lot of planning and is made most possible with planning earlier in your undergraduate career and by closely coordinating with academic advisers. On the other hand, pursuing a minor does take some planning, but is much more feasible for most STEM majors as well as transfer students who may have too few quarters for making a double major happen. With this in mind, I will mostly be addressing the prospect of minoring, but please take note that with the right mindset, some early planning, and some gumption, double majoring may also be possible! These are just a few things to consider as we move forward.
So, let’s get started on the different motives and benefits of minoring…
1 – Making the Most of Your GEs — A well-known truth about CBS is that our college is somewhat deficient in Arts and Humanities (AH) and Social Science (SS) courses. Thus, the 32 units of AH and SS courses needed for the General Education requirement are generally not associated with your major course material. That is approximately 8 courses outside of your major that you can dedicate to a minor! A minor is generally a few courses of lower division prerequisite material and around 20-24 units (5-6 courses)
of upper division ‘depth’ coursework — making it wholly feasible to utilize for completing your GEs, which are already a necessary degree requirement. What better way to make the most of your GEs than to do a minor and earn yourself an additional credential? This is something I planned out with my Spanish adviser, as there are some specific or niche GE requirements that only specific Spanish courses would cover. Make sure to check in with your advisers to find out when certain courses are offered in order to best plan for this!
2 – Balancing Your Course Load — One of the biggest issues people run into while pursuing STEM degrees is the sheer amount of heavy science coursework they have to take at once. Being able to use minor courses as ‘buffers’ is a really helpful tool in preventing mental strain and maintaining your overall wellness. While partaking in
extracurriculars and making time for your hobbies is great in theory, it is often easy to put off these sorts of things due to academic and personal stress. In my own circumstance, I found that committing myself to Spanish helped to ensure this balance throughout my academic career. In the best possible way, it forced me to prioritize something aside from science that I greatly enjoy, which has substantially enhanced my college experience as a whole.
3 – Standing Out/Becoming More Multifaceted — When considering increasingly competitive work positions or graduate/health-related programs, it feels impossible to capture yourself on paper in a way that truly reflects your identity and individuality. Completing a unique minor is just one way to differentiate yourself. This is something that can help you both directly and indirectly. For instance, it can be both help with how you appear to someone reviewing physical applications and it can also be helpful as a
point of interest to connect with an interviewer or colleague. Aside from appearances, minors are especially helpful in broadening your horizons, expanding your comfort zone, or building upon your skill set to make you a more well-rounded candidate for any position. Whether you minor in something more practical, like Communications, or something of a more personal interest, like Art History, both can help build your professional versatility and extend the scope of your academic experience.
4 – An Increasing Professional Gray Area — Modern-day careers are no longer nearly as rigid and linear as they used to be. Not only are there more and more spliced careers being established within the gray area between different fields, but there are also increasing numbers of STEM majors pursuing careers outside of STEM, such as law, etc. Some minor programs might help prepare you for navigating the gray area between
different career paths as you work to found yourself professionally. However, you do not necessarily need a minor for this and there are also many meaningful extracurricular opportunities that might be equally helpful in working toward this goal.
5 – Studying Abroad — Arguably one of the most straightforward reasons for pursuing a minor is the possibility of studying abroad. While this is not a required part of most
minors, this can often be more easily incorporated into culturally or linguistically focused minors when compared to STEM majors. While there are some specific programs that help students complete STEM courses abroad or partake in health or research opportunities while abroad, these are not looked at as being nearly as ‘necessary,’ and so they are generally less promoted. For more information on these opportunities, I recommend dropping into the Study Abroad Center.
6 – (Last, but not least…) Uncertainty and Curiosity — It is completely normal and quite common for students to not have a concrete idea of what career they would like to pursue after they graduate. I think that, as students here, most of us have probably seen a friend or two have a change of heart about their studies or the future career they want for themselves. With this in mind, it is important to recognize that a person’s major does
not limit their career prospects upon graduation, as people often end up in careers largely unrelated to what they studied for their undergraduate. Will trade schools are geared toward training you for a specific line of work, an academic career at a university is meant to foster the exploration of ideas rather than limiting you to a narrow path. For those of us undertaking unit-dense majors in Biological Sciences, the space for exploration is a bit more limited, but if you make the most of your GEs and plan accordingly, minoring is not out of reach.
My advice on how to make a minor work for you will be highly unoriginal: make alternate plans, seek out advising, and be flexible. I personally love to make alternate academic plans to be able to see what my options are so that I can ensure that my future quarters will be well-balanced. In planning ahead, I have also been able to make space for research and extracurricular opportunities. I have been able to identify potential problems early on and avoid a lot of complications by reviewing my plans with both my EEB and Spanish advisers. Some issues I had were unavoidable and that’s where it was so important for me to be flexible and willing to take a summer session to keep things on track.
I hope that this post gives you some food for thought as you continue your academic journey and helps you to explore the options before you.
BASC PEER ADVISOR
4TH YEAR – EVOLUTION, ECOLOGY, AND BIODIVERSITY + SPANISH MAJOR