Anatomy of a College Curriculum: The Major

In our last blog, we looked at how a college curriculum is organized and then looked more closely at the Core Curriculum (General Education) Requirements. In this discussion, we will look more closely at the Major.

In addition to completing a college’s Core Curriculum, college students select a “Major” area of study. Major requirements may vary significantly from Major area to Major area, or between colleges in the same Major area. For example, an Accounting Major will typically be much more extensive (require more credit hours) than a History Major. So, it would be much easier for a History major to add a Minor or Double Major as compared to an Accounting major. Additionally, the requirements for a History or Accounting major may differ markedly between colleges. The tradeoff – the more significant the Major requirements, the fewer electives are available for students to Double Major or select a Minor.

As a general rule of thumb, Professional Majors such as Business, Nursing, or Engineering tend to require more credit hours than those in other disciplines. The reason for this is that Professional Majors are often informed by specialty accreditor requirements, state licensure requirements, or other professional standards that extend required coursework. Students majoring in Art-related disciplines (e.g. Music, Dance, Illustration, Graphic Design, etc.) should carefully explore Major credit hours as these may vary greatly between colleges even given identical Majors.

The Major curriculum is typically composed of (1) Major courses (courses IN the Major area of study); Correlatives (courses outside the Major area of study, but required by the Major), and; (3) Major “Pick From” lists of courses from which students may choose a prescribed number of courses. These courses may be in the Major area of study or outside it and typically allow students to specialize a bit.

So, for example, a student majoring in Accounting would be required to complete a set of Major Accounting courses such as Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Personal Taxation, Auditing, and others. Additionally they might be required to take Correlatives (additional courses outside of Accounting) such as a course in Management, Statistics, Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, or others. Finally, they may be required to select a small number of elective courses from a longer list. These options allow students to tailor their Accounting Major to respond to more specific career objectives. Options might include Entrepreneurial Accounting, Introduction to QuickBooks, Non-Profit Accounting, etc.

Each Major is structured differently and differences exist in the same Major at different colleges as well. This is one reason why, at CBA, we recommend that students and their families meet with a faculty member in each Major they are considering at each college they are considering. In that meeting, the student can ask the faculty member to explain the organization of the Major courses. It sounds technical, but once you hear a faculty member explain their Major course sequence at three different colleges, it will become more clear which college has a thoughtfully designed Major with many options and those that are more rigid and/or guided by tradition.

Next time, we will look at Free Electives and how a student can use these to his or her advantage.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

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