Explain College Majors and Minors to me like I’m 5 please


I’m going to college for the first time and I want to Major in Engineering, didn’t realize I had to choose a minor as well and was thinking about Political Science. Do these 2 pair well as far as long term career benefits go? I’m oblivious to this whole college world…

EDIT: Aerospace Engineering, the Astronautical Branch. Sorry for not including in the original post. I’m just a guy who loves space/spaceflight and finally decided I wanted to do something about it by going to school and try to make a difference in the field. My ultimate dreams/aspirations are to work at NASA.

In: 2

You don’t have to choose a minor. A Minor helps you specialize. For instance a friend of mine wanted to be a patent attorney. He majored in Business and minored in engineering studies, before going to get his JD (law degree).

Major is your focus and minor is any other subject that may tie into your major but you don’t have to minor in anything

Majors and minors are areas of focused study. You might major in History but you might minor in Education if you plan to be a teacher. You might major in criminal justice, but minor in chemistry or something if you intend to study forensics in law enforcement.

For an American college or university, you need to pick a major, the field that your education will focus on. It can be anything from English to physics to anthropology to music. You will then take a combination of general education classes to give you a well-rounded education, and classes about your major to get you ready for a career in that field.

In the majority of American universities, a minor is an option where you may also take some classes in a different field which might be related or could be completely unrelated, and if you take enough of those classes you will also receive an official statement on your diploma that you have taken sufficient study in that field, even if it wasn’t your primary one, that you should be recognized for it.

For most universities, a minor is optional. It may be that your college counselor strongly recommended it and made it seem like it was necessary, you may want to talk to them and ask for clarification.

Some colleges don’t have the concept of a major / minor. There was my main degree and there were a list of approved electives – some of which were “technical” in that they were in the same general field as my major, and some weren’t… but had been deemed appropriate complimentary studies for that major. All a minor does is really a theme for your non-core electives (an elective is an optional course you get to choose as opposed to a mandatory “everyone getting this degree has to take it.” course.

So in my computer engineering degree, we had technical electives like biomedical instrumentation (which was super cool), but various non-engineering classes we could take as well. History of Popular Music was a popular one. Lots of business school classes, history. A few sociology and psych courses.

When you get a minor it just gives and official direction to the electives you pick, or in some schools predetermined the non-core (to your major) courses that you’re allowed to take.

I think political science is a great minor for engineering. A significant part of our jobs is to help determine legal and legislative impacts to the technology we develop – or the other way around, determine what impact legislation and laws have on our technology. Polisci would be perhaps a good background to have if you were to choose to follow up with a law degree (LOTS of opportunities to do IP and patent law, and your tech background gives you a huge leg up.)

A major is your area of concentration, what your degree is awarded in. Might be something like 12-15 courses to complete.

Minors are usually optional, and it a focus on another topic of interest but fewer requirements than a major, something more like 7-8 courses.

If you take a specific number of hours of courses in a specific field of study you have earned a major in the category and earn a degree in that discipline. If you take another number of hours of study (less than the major) you minor in another discipline. Often minors are not v relevant but it was for me. I was a biology major in college and minored in philosophy (believing the diversity would help me get into med school). Having a philosophy major/minor is not a prerequisite to obtaining admission to most grad schools if you have autodidatically learned the relevant procedure and material but it sure helped me gain admission to my first choice grad program and receive a fellowship when I changed gears and decided I wanted to obtain a Ph.D instead of an MD.

Thank you all for the quick responses! All of them have helped me a lot already! To sum me up: I’m 30, I love space/spaceflight, finally decided to do something about it and go to school. But I wanted something to back up my Engineering Major, rather than just be a fallback. An engineer with knowledge of politics seems they could make a real difference in the Space Industry and that’s all I want to do is make a difference.

It’s a little different for every college so there isn’t a really good all-encompassing answer.

But your major is what you are tying to get your degree in. It is the thing that you will spend the most time studying and, when you graduate, you assert it’s the topic that you know the most about.

A minor is optional. It means there’s a secondary subject you decided to take more classes than you *needed* to graduate. So you’re more well-educated in that topic than the average person, but you didn’t put so much effort into the topic as to meet the requirements for a full-fledged degree.

“Is Engineering/Political Science a good pair” is a very subjective question.

My first thought is, “What kind of engineering?” There are dozens of engineering specialties like aerospace engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, etc. That can matter.

My second thought is when I was in college, “Political Science” was a major people in my school didn’t appreciate. The feeling was it was a sort of “default” major people picked when they got through 2 or 3 semesters and HAD to declare a major. I was young, dumb, and didn’t question this but now it feels like gatekeeping. One of my bosses had no CS degrees and a Master’s of Political Science. So it’s definitely not irrelevant. What matters is the person, not the paper.

My suggestion to you is to see what the requirements to minor in Political Science are, then ask yourself if you find those classes both interesting and relevant. If you don’t, either don’t pick a minor or pick a minor that involves classes you find interesting.

I have a Bachelor’s of Computer Science and the most useful classes I took were humanities like Anthropology and World Religions. Those classes taught me about the different ways people view the world and that my ways weren’t necessarily “right” from all views. The stuff I learned in my CS classes were all things I sort of already knew from hobby work and early internships. You don’t really get to learn humanities as you go.

I’m not necessarily suggesting more humanities (but I think people skimp on them and it’s part of why everyone’s so mean today) but I *am* pointing out you should keep in mind that you’re going to learn 90% of what you will ultimately know about your major topic *on the job* and after graduation, so it’s worth investing any efforts towards a Minor in side topics you think will make you a better person. If that happens to be Political Science, go for it!

What type of engineering? It makes sense to pair a minor with the type of engineering that you are going to be doing.

Example: You want to do electrical engineering, a music minor might be helpful if you want to work on designing audio equipment.

A civic engineering degree might pair well with some form of environmental minor.

Try and find 2 that pair together for some sort of focused career.

At my university declaring a Major and then taking the associated coursework for that Major was a requirement for graduation. We were also required to have something called a “Thematic Sequence” which was 3or 4 courses outside of your major (they had about 50 thematic sequences you could pick from, basically different collections of elective classes). What my advisor didn’t tell me, was that if I had declared a minor I wouldn’t have had to take a thematic sequence…

Everyone else here has done a good job on major vs minor, so I won’t do that, but I’ve worked for a few years in engineering and can give some advice on minors that might be useful:

– Any minor is not going to be major factor in hiring decisions. It will mostly be a tiebreaker if you and another candidate for a job are extremely similar otherwise. If there’s something you’re really interested in but it has no relevance to Engineering, it really won’t hurt you much to go for it (I have a useless history minor and have never struggled to find a job)

– Political science is not likely to be useful unless you want to Civil Engineering in the public sector. Even then I’d question the value. Only do this if it interests you, don’t count on it being an advantage

– Minors / double majors that have broad value in many different types of Engineering are business focused ones – economics, business management, etc. Companies love it when their engineers not only understand how to do their job but also how what they’re doing affects the bottom line. Also, finding good engineering managers can be tough; if management is something you’re interested in, this gives you a leg up. If this doesn’t interest you, you’ll have to think about what you want to do and think about what pairs well:

– As others have pointed out, if specific careers within engineering interest you, pairing it with a minor that’s related could help. If you want to do Comp Sci to get into game or UI work, pairing that with some kind of art or design work could help, etc.