My College:
Career Prep

Connecting Majors and Minors With Careers

Suzanne Shaffer


Your student has started college, and it’s an exciting time for them. Over the next four years, much will be done to educate them in the field they choose to study — their academic major — but that’s just the beginning. They also need to focus on preparing for a career after graduation.

Colleges and universities recognize the need to provide tools and services that help students connect their education with a career. It's up to your student to take advantage of what's offered to them.

Encourage your student to follow these seven steps to connect their academic path to a career.

1. Meet with an Academic Advisor

It's always a good idea to meet regularly with an academic advisor and maintain that relationship throughout college. They can advise your student regarding specific majors related to careers, as well as answer any questions about pairing a minor with a major.

Many students enter higher education without the benefit of good career guidance in high school. Whether a student is undecided or has declared a major, advisors can work with them to establish clear academic and career goals. When students understand the professional options that their academic interests prepare them for, they're more likely to succeed and follow through to graduation.

2. Research Minors Related to Majors

An academic minor is a group of classes in a particular subject area taken in addition to classes required for a major. A minor typically includes between 18 and 30 credit hours. It cannot stand independently but must be paired with a major or degree program.

In addition to supporting a major, minors can be beneficial when interviewing for a job or applying to graduate school. Minors show the student is intellectually engaged and able to handle an additional workload.

A specific minor is a bonus form of experience when applying for certain jobs. One example might be a company hiring business majors who prefer those with foreign language minors because they partner with international businesses. Another company might be hiring a student with a human resources major, but a graduate with a psychology minor would be a preferred candidate.

When my daughter was in college, she loved everything about English and literature. I think she secretly dreamed of being a writer but was trying to be practical when choosing a major. She picked marketing as her major with a minor in English. When she began working in advertising, she could use her strong writing skills as she crafted projects for her clients.

The major concern with declaring a minor will be the additional cost and time required to complete college with both a major and a minor. If money is tight or your student is concerned about graduating in four years, a minor might not fit into their degree plan.

3. Consider a Double Major

Your student isn’t necessarily limited to one field of study. Colleges often allow students to pursue a double major. Students who double major normally choose complementing academic fields, although it is not a requirement.

For instance, students pursuing careers in accounting might also major in finance. An engineering student might add a math major. This will, of course, require an extreme amount of academic discipline. Another option, instead of a double major, would be to choose a minor instead.

The significant difference between a double major and a minor is the course load. Minors can have as few as five courses, but a second major consists of just as many courses as the primary major. Double major programs allow for more in-depth courses, while minors include a select number of courses that give you a fundamental understanding of multiple areas.

Both degree paths will enhance a student’s resume upon graduation, but a double major might gain more attention from employers. The additional workload demonstrates the student’s drive and work ethic, and the student has vast knowledge in both of their majors.

4. Visit the Campus Career Center

Your student shouldn't just "visit" the center — they should get to know it well and spend lots of time there.

Campus career centers assist students in all activities related to choosing and preparing for a career. Career counselors can help students research careers related to their major and/or minor, guide them in all aspects of a career search, and help them connect with companies related to a career. Career centers host career-related events and workshops to help students connect with alumni and companies to plan and prepare for a career. These workshops might include tips on how to research careers related to specific majors, how to prepare and search for an internship related to your career, and how to stand out at job fairs. Events include networking opportunities with faculty and businesses employing interns and graduates and career fairs to help students explore careers related to their major.

Learn 5 ways to begin career prep in the first year of college >

5. Explore Career Tools Provided by the College

Colleges provide tools to help students discover what career options they have available within their major.

Rutgers University gives students a simple tool to explore careers within specific majors. Each major profile highlights career information for that major and lists related occupations, typical employers, graduate school options, and examples of jobs obtained by Rutgers graduates.

The University of North Texas has set up a group of tools designed to match academic programs with a career. Students can use an interactive tool that provides information and links related to each major, along with potential employers and strategies to use when considering a career. They also provide a list of employers by major, along with a link to O*NET OnLine, the nation’s primary source of occupational information that can be filtered by state.

Your student should search their college website for career resources and take advantage of them.

6. Connect With Alumni

Every college and university has an alumni organization. These proud grads are scattered throughout the business and academic world and are happy to support their school and the students who attend by providing career guidance and network support.

Your student should take advantage of all alumni events organized to connect current students with past students. These events can be organized by the career center or the alumni organization itself. In addition, your student can connect with alumni on LinkedIn to see where they work and how they're using their degrees.

7. Use Internships to Explore Careers

An internship is an invaluable tool for exploring careers related to a college major. While in college, your student should apply to internships related to their field of study. They can usually find these posted at the career center or online as companies post openings. Hands-on experience is often the best way to determine whether the career is a good fit. If not, there’s always time to adjust and pursue a different path.

College is a chance for your student to explore careers and determine a professional path after graduation. The tools and services provided by the college should help them prepare for graduation and a future career.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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