An American Education - The Minor/Major System
3 min read
Unlike the UK, the USA’s collegiate system ensures that students have the flexibility to study things which interest them, no matter how unrelated the subjects may be. This is arguably best seen in the major/minor system employed within US schools, meaning that students are not required to declare a major field of study until the end of their sophomore year, and that they are able to study a subject as a minor – even if it has no direct relevance to the main field their degree will be in. This system of majors and minors has been used in the US since the beginning of the 19th century. Originally established as a “alternative component of the undergraduate degree,” it is now the only college system used in the states, and is growing in popularity and demand among universities around the world. While forms of majors can be seen in universities in the UK – where students are able to study for a straight degree, such as Law or History, or can study for a joint honours, the UK’s equivalent to a double major – taking a minor field of study is something that is mostly unique to the US. Students often opt for minors which complement their major, such as business and economics, or art and philosophy. However, others view minors as an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the job market, or even when applying to grad school. Unusual minors such as popular culture or jazz studies ensure that your application will stand out from the rest. Part of the reason why so many UK and other international students have left their native countries in order to study in the US is down to this system. It ensures that students have flexibility and choice, a method which works much better than forcing naïve, inexperienced 17 year olds to decide on their life path. As students have two years of school before they have to decide on a major, they are able to take classes which interest them, rather than ones they think might help them get a job. The benefits of a system like this can also be seen in the USA’s relatively low dropout rate, when compared to the UK’s. While the USA’s graduation rates sit solidly on the OECD’s average of 38%, the UK has slipped below this, to just 30%. This can be credited to, not only the flexibility and choice which the USA offers in terms of college education, but also the focus on breadth rather than depth. In the world of work, a broad knowledge of a number of fields is much more appealing than studying one, niche field in depth. This approach is looked upon more favorably among employers, as well as students, and opens more doors in the long term.