The value of an academic minor

By The Beacon | March 9, 2011 9:00pm

By Philippe Boutros, Staff Writer --

According to, "So, what's your minor?" is an icebreaker of even "cheesier" proportions than the oft-used "So, what's your major?"

A more apt question could be "What's the point of having a minor?"

"I'm a philosophy and political science major, and I'm going to minor in French and possibly German," sophomore Haley Skelton said. "I don't believe that my minor will be recognized as highly as my major, but knowing another language can't hurt."

Not a single incoming freshman at the University of Portland has ever declared a minor, and the online application doesn't allow the option to do so.

Students generally decide whether they want to minor in something – and commit themselves to concentrating a substantial amount of their time in another area of study – once they're set on their major, which can take quite a while.

Between 30 and 40 percent of students at UP will switch majors before they graduate, according to Director of the Office of Institutional Research Karen Nelson, and many of them will do so more than once.

"I'm an environmental science major right now, but I've been thinking about switching to business," freshman Ethan Barnes said. "It's crazy how tempting it is to change your mind."

Students feel that they need every aspect of their résumé to be perfect these days because with unemployment slowly inching its way downward from its 30-year peak, career opportunities after college are on many students' minds.

Some career experts, however, believe having a minor can give an applicant an edge, given the right circumstances.

"I would say a minor is a great way of exploring another field of study," Employer Relations and Internship Coordinator Max Kalchthaler said. "In terms of how useful it is in the job market, it's much more the case of how it relates to the job you're applying for,"

Some UP professors agree.

"Personally, I think it is useful to have a minor," marketing professor Elena Bernard said. "It shows that a person has diverse interests and academic skills outside of their major."

The University of Portland's 28 available minors span a range of fields from business administration to music. Some students choose to declare a minor in order to strengthen their résumés. Others, however, choose a minor purely out of personal interest.

"I'm not really sure what I'm going to major in, but the only thing that I'm completely sure of is that I'm going to minor in fine arts, I love it so much," freshman Antje Morris said. "It might not help me find a job, but I want to take advantage of the fact that UP offers it because I like it so much."