Choosing Majors and Minors

How Do I Choose My Major?

  1. Experience General Education: General education is your gateway to higher learning. More than just requirements to “get out of the way,” these courses will expose you to a wide variety of disciplines and put you in a situation to meet other students whose interests may be quite different from your own, effectively broadening your education and your experience. Through these courses, you can also learn about various majors that you may be interested in pursuing.
  2. Self-Assessment: Do some inner-reflection, assessing your interests, values, strengths, dislikes, abilities, personal qualities, and skills. Evaluate what you find most important for yourself. Look at what you want. Try to imagine the setting that enhances who you are, such as climate (hot, cold, dry, humid, etc.) or locale (small town, city, etc.). The Career Center has assessment tools that can help you pinpoint some of these things.
  3. Cast a Broad Net: Don’t think in terms of choosing a major or department. Think of an area of study that interests you. There are many jobs out there that you haven’t even thought of and some jobs that haven’t even been created. Don’t limit yourself.
  4. Talk with Others: Talk with your advisor, professors, and professionals in various fields, family, and friends about majors and how they match your interests and skills. Talk with department chairs and faculty in departments you want to explore. Talk with people in careers you want to explore. Make an appointment and see a career counselor at the Career Center.
  5. Network: It is never too soon to start building a networking system. Get to know your professors and academic advisor. Build relationships with students in your classes. Join clubs and activities on campus. Join a professional organization (student often receive discounts) in an area you find interesting. Work with the Alumni Association on campus to hook up with alumni in areas that interest you or contact the Career Center to get involved in the Maine Mentor Program. Go to a Career Fair (watch for announcements).
  6. Set Goals: Focus on your main goal: graduating from college. Your indecision about a major should not deter you from moving toward completing your college degree. Set monthly and weekly goals, go to all your classes, and treat your college education as you would treat your career.
  7. Gain Experience: Working in an area you are interested in is a great way of testing whether a job or major is right for you. You can test your perception of a field against the reality of it. Working also helps you discover your strengths, interests, and skills. Don’t overlook the value of volunteering your time. The Career Center has a job board and information on various paid and unpaid internships.
  8. Make a Choice: It is fine to stay undecided for the first year or so of college. But a point comes when you need to make a decision and work to make it successful. Indecisiveness can create a lack of motivation and be a self-destructive cycle. When you are indecisive, you don’t take action, when you don’t take action, you can become depressed and this can lead to missing classes, which results in more depression and inaction.
  9. Evaluate and Modify: Get past the fear of making decisions by reminding yourself that few things in life are reversible. Evaluate your decision as you go along. You can always change majors again. Bringing closure to your undergraduate degree in any major is better than going to school for years and living in fear of choosing the wrong major. You can always go back for graduate work in another area of study. By focusing on one area now, you can direct your energies.

How do I Choose a Minor?

You’ve started college. You’ve chosen a major. You’re all set. But then someone blasts your equilibrium and asks, “What’s your minor?” That sets your mind working, making you start wondering if you really need a minor. And if the college doesn’t require one, should you bother having a minor? And if so, what should it be. Well, hopefully this post will help you wade through some of those very legitimate questions and provide you with some guidance on whether to have a minor field, and if so, how to choose it.

A minor field is an area of study that provides a basic grounding in an academic field. Here at UMaine, most are between 18 to 24 credit hour. That’s normally 6-8 classes, about ½ to ⅓ of the credits required for most majors. A minor won’t make you an expert, but if gives you a general understanding of the field. This general knowledge, though, can be important academically or professionally, or even in both ways.

First off, do you NEED a minor? While the University of Maine does not require students to have a minor, certain colleges and programs do. As an example, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) requires a minor for students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and who matriculated effective Fall 2011. So you’ll want to check with your advisor to see whether your particular major or your college does require one.

One way to choose a college minor is to think ahead to possible career paths you’d be interested in pursuing. Often a major is chosen to provide a direct path to that career. But sometimes a little more knowledge or a little more training is necessary or beneficial to achieve your career goals. That’s where a minor comes in. A minor can complement your major field, giving you a broader base to work from when you hit the job market or look into going to graduate school. For instance, there are a number of Psychology majors here in CLAS that are minoring in Neuroscience, providing them with a background in both the psychological and physiological aspects of the human brain. Another popular option, for students interested in going to law school, is to major in Political Science or History or even Philosophy and minor in Legal Studies. Students then gain the analytical and critical thinking skills that the liberal arts provide, plus a contextual background for the legal profession.

A minor can also complement the major in terms of career goals, while being quite different from the minor. A student interested in pursuing a career in marketing could choose a Business Administration in Marketing major and a minor in Graphic Design. Or perhaps a future software design engineer might major in Computer Science and minor in Accounting, providing that student with an understanding of the needs that business field needs in its software. Future K-12 teachers should also not underestimate the importance of a minor field in expanding teachable subject areas.

Of course, a minor does not have to help you towards your chosen career path. Not at all. For some students, a minor field is simply a subject that the student really enjoys and is passionate about. Let’s be honest, college is expensive and few people have the time and money required to obtain degrees in every subject they love. While your primary passion should be your major, if there’s another topic you feel strongly about, minor in it. The University of Maine has over 100 different minor programs, so there is likely one that will fit your passion. Students can theoretically have as many minors as they’d like (I say theoretically because time and money limit the vast majority of students to one or perhaps two minors). And while having a minor doesn’t have to be chosen to help your career, it can definitely demonstrate a breadth of knowledge and experience that can help you stand out from the crowd.

So, choosing a minor field is an intensely personal decision. Some students will choose the minor based on career paths, others for personal edification. Both are completely legitimate choices. If you find that you are having difficulty deciding on a minor, we here at the CLAS Advising Center can help you look through your options. Also talk with your faculty advisor about complementary fields. And don’t forget that the Career Center is an excellent resource and they can help you examine potential minor fields as well. But in the end, the choice is yours. Don’t let anyone choose it for you.

Declaring Your Major or Minor: Policies and Procedures

A question we often get asked here in the Advising Center is: “When do I have to declare a major/minor?” And right behind that is: “How do I declare a major/minor?” Since I’ve already discussed how to choose a major or minor, here’s a quick primer on the policies and procedures for declaring.

The first question is fairly simple. All students at the University of Maine are required to declare a major by the time they have accumulated 54 credits, which means they have attained Junior standing. This does not mean that you are locked in to that major; you may still switch majors at will. But you will have an advisor in that department. The reasoning behind this is that the University does not want students to be Undecided by the time they are into their third year on campus.

The time frame for declaring a minor is much more open-ended. In the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts are required to have a minor. If that does not describe you (you are not in a CLAS major or pursuing a BS, BFA, or BME), you should check with your faculty advisor about your departments requirements. Generally speaking, though, a student simply needs to declare a minor prior to the end of the semester prior to expected graduation. Therefore, if you are looking to graduate in May, then you need to declare the minor before the end of Finals Week in April.

To actually declare the major or minor, you’ll need to fill out a Change of Program/Plan Sub-Plan:

    1. First you will fill out the top form with your information: your name, student ID, date of birth, and the current date. For your “Current Program (College)” just write in which college your current major is; Liberal Arts & Sciences = LASNatural Sciences, Forestry & Agriculture = NSFAEducation & Human Development = EDHDBusiness; or Engineering. Also fill out your current major and minor. If you do not have a current major or minor, just mark it as None.
      1. “Signature of the Department Chair of the department student is leaving” is only required for students leaving the following programs: Foundations, Explorations, and Engineering.
    2. Where it says “Change of Program (College)” fill in the college that the major is in. If you already have a declared a major and are just declaring a minor, then you can leave this blank.
    3. For “Change of Plan (Major)” you will put in the major that you are declaring, if you are declaring one. If you already have a declared a major and are just declaring a minor, then you can leave this blank.
      1. “Signature of incoming Department Chair” is not required for LAS departments. If you are declaring a major in another college, check with that college’s requirements.
    4. “Declare/Delete/Change subplan (concentration)” is for those majors that require a student to declare a specific concentration (such as Psychology) or for those that have voluntary subplans (such as Sociology). You just need to circle the appropriate action (declare, delete, or change). If this does not pertain to you or your major, you may leave it blank.
    5. “Declare or Delete minor(s)”. Here is where you either name the minor you are adding or list the minor you are removing, whichever pertains to you. Again, you need to circle the appropriate action.
    6. You need to obtain a signature of the chair of the department you are adding as your minor.
    7. You only need to fill in the Double Major or Double Minor portion if you are declaring one or the other. If you are not, you may leave that blank. If you are, you just need to fill in the necessary information (same as needed above) and decide which is your primary and which is your secondary major.
    8. After everything is filled out and signed, drop it off at the college office. For CLAS, that is Stevens Hall, Room 100.

Academic Planning

One of the most crucial keys to success in academia as well as other places in life is organization. Many students find that balancing the degree requirements for their major or minor (if they have declared one) as well as their general education requirements can be quite daunting. Some find that laying out a basic plan of how to fit in requirements, as well as leaving some space for courses that they may want to take but may not necessarily meet them, quite helpful. Seeing what courses you have already taken, and those you need to take in an organized manner can ensure that you do not go too far off course when choosing classes. This planning can help students meet their academic goals and graduate in a reasonable amount of time.

Overall, the process of mapping out your academic career is quite simple. This guide will outline the steps and information you will need, and then provide an example of a fictional student who has completed some courses, and has created an academic plan. The first step is to take a look at what you have already taken. You can find this through your Degree Progress Report, located through the Student Center on MaineStreet under the ‘Academics’ heading on the left. Record the course name and number, what semester you took it, the number of credits earned and the grade received.

What you’ll need next is a list of requirements. Once again all students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are required to fulfill a set of General Education requirements to help ensure a well-rounded education. Here at the CLAS Advising Center, these general education requirements are some of the most common thing we help our students navigate. You can find a list of them here. Requirements for your major will vary considerably depending on your department guidelines. Speak with your faculty advisor about the best courses to take to earn your degree and will work with your future career goals.

Once you have compiled a list of courses you’ll need to satisfy general education and major requirements, the next step is to plan when you will take each course. Having your academic career planned out visually can help you spread out your courses in a way that does not end up being overwhelming or too heavy in once topic. Having some diversity in your workload keeps the material interesting, breaks up the required courses and prevents too much overlap in one semester.

For the point of this exercise, we will use a fictional student who has completed their first year and has declared a major in Mass Communication (CMJ). This is a breakdown of the courses they have passed so far:

Sample First Year

Note that some courses, such as AVS 145, are able to fulfill two general education requirements. PSY 100 also fulfills the Social Context & Institution requirement, but since it has already been covered by ANY 102, there is no need to list it again.

The next step is to look at what else is needed to graduate. So, for their major in Mass Communication, this student will need:

Required Courses

As well as 6 more courses found on a list of major requirements provided by their department.

As for General Education Requirements, this student needs:

      • Human Values and Social Context – Population and Environment
      • Mathematics – Only one credit of Computer Science can be used towards the math requirement. This student will need another, non-COS course.
      • Writing Competency – A writing intensive course outside of their major as well as one within their major
      • Capstone – A capstone experience worked on with a faculty member in their major department.

So, the academic plan for this student may look something like this:

Academic Plan

So, as you can see, this student has more than enough time and flexibility to satisfy both their major requirements, as well as their general education requirements. Most degree programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences require that students declare a minor or double major. This student has plenty of room to fit in the required courses when they choose their minor.

These academic plans are an effective way to manage your time and set up long terms goals. The staff in the Advising Center at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are here to work with you to help you create an academic plan, look at general education requirements, and provide you with information regarding other campus resources.