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An academic major is the
academic discipline An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. The usual test for a statement of fact is ...
to which an
undergraduate student Undergraduate education is education conducted after secondary education and prior to postgraduate education Postgraduate education (graduate education in North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hem ...
formally commits. A student who successfully completes all courses required for the major qualifies for an
undergraduate degree An undergraduate degree (also called first degree or simply degree) is a colloquial term for an academic degree earned by a person who has completed undergraduate courses. In the United States, it is usually offered at an institution of higher edu ...
. The word ''major'' is also sometimes used administratively to refer to the academic discipline pursued by a
graduate student Student receives degree from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City, 2013 A graduate school (sometimes shortened to grad school) is a school that awards advanced academic degrees (e.g., master's degree, master's ...
or
postgraduate student Postgraduate education (graduate education in North America) involves learning and studying for Academic degree, academic or professional degrees, academic or professional certificates, academic or professional diplomas, or other qualifications ...
in a
master's A master's degree (from Latin ) is an academic degree awarded by University, universities or colleges upon completion of a course of study demonstrating mastery or a high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of Profession, professio ...
or
doctoral A doctorate (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be i ...
program. An academic major typically requires completion of a combination of prescribed and
elective course In higher education Higher education is tertiary education leading to award of an academic degree. Higher education, also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education, is an optional final stage of formal learning that occur ...
s in the chosen discipline. In addition, most colleges and universities require that all students take a general
core curriculum In education, a curriculum (; plural curricula or curriculums) is broadly defined as the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process. The term often refers specifically to a planned sequence of instruction, or to a view ...
in the
liberal arts Liberal arts education (from Latin "free" and "art or principled practice") is the traditional academic program in Western higher education. ''Liberal arts'' takes the term ''Art (skill), art'' in the sense of a learned skill rather than spec ...
. The latitude a student has in choosing courses varies from program to program. An academic major is administered by select faculty in an
academic department {{unreferenced, date=June 2009, bot=yes An academic department is a division of a university A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an educational institution, institution of higher education, higher (or Tertiary education, tertiary) educ ...
. A major administered by more than one academic department is called an ''interdisciplinary major''. In some settings, students may be permitted to design their own major, subject to faculty approval. In the US, students are usually not required to choose their major discipline when first enrolling as an undergraduate. Normally students are required to commit by the end of their second
academic yearAn academic year or school year is a period of time which schools, colleges and university, universities use to measure a quantity of study. School holiday School holidays (also referred to as vacations, breaks, and recess) are the periods during ...
at latest, and some schools even disallow students from declaring a major until this time. A student who declares two academic majors is said to have a ''double major''. A ''coordinate major'' is an ancillary major designed to complement the primary one. A coordinate major requires fewer
course credit A credit is the recognition for having taken a course Course may refer to: Directions or navigation * Course (navigation), the path of travel * Course (orienteering), a series of control points visited by orienteers during a competition, marked ...
s to complete. Many colleges also allow students to declare a
minor Minor may refer to: * Minor (law), a person under the age of certain legal activities. ** A person who has not reached the age of majority * Academic minor, a secondary field of study in undergraduate education Music theory *Minor chord ** Barbe ...
field, a secondary discipline in which they also take a substantial number of classes, but not so many as would be necessary to complete a major.


History

The roots of the academic major as we now know it first surfaced in the 19th century as "alternative components of the undergraduate degree"."The Academic Major." Encyclopedia of Education. Ed. Guthrie, James W. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 19-23. Before that, all students receiving an
undergraduate degree An undergraduate degree (also called first degree or simply degree) is a colloquial term for an academic degree earned by a person who has completed undergraduate courses. In the United States, it is usually offered at an institution of higher edu ...
would be required to study the same slate of courses geared at a comprehensive "
liberal education A liberal education is a system or course of education suitable for the cultivation of a (Latin: ''liber'') human being. It is based on the concept of the or, more commonly now, the of the . It has been described as "a philosophy of education ...
". In 1825, the
University of Virginia The University of Virginia (U.Va. or UVA) is a Public university#United States, public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. It is the flagship university of Virginia and home to the Academic ...

University of Virginia
initiated an educational approach that would allow students to choose from an area of focus. Offering eight options (which included ancient languages, anatomy, medicine), other higher educational systems in Europe began to develop into a stricter specialization approach to studies after the American Civil War. In the United States, in the second half of the 19th century, concentrated foci at the undergraduate level began to prosper and popularize, but the familiar term "major" did not appear until 1877 in a
Johns Hopkins University The Johns Hopkins University (Johns Hopkins, Hopkins, or JHU) is a private university, private research university in Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1876, the university was named for its first benefactor, the American entrepreneur ...

Johns Hopkins University
catalogue. The major generally required 2 years of study, while the minor required one. From 1880 to 1910,
BaccalaureateBaccalaureate may refer to: *Baccalauréat, France's national secondary-school (''lycée'') diploma *Baccalaureate service, a farewell address in the form of a sermon delivered to a graduating class (in the United States) *Bachelor's degree, an acade ...
granting American institutions vastly embraced a free-elective system, where students were endowed with a greater freedom to explore intellectual curiosities. The 1930s witnessed the appearance of first interdisciplinary major:
American studies American studies or American civilization is an interdisciplinary field of scholarship that examines American literature, history History (from Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the ...
. Culture was the grounding concept and orchestrating principle for its courses. 1960s to 1970s experienced a new tide of interdisciplinary majors and a relaxation of curriculum and graduation requirements. (
Civil Rights Movement The 1954–1968 civil rights movement in the was preceded by a decades-long campaign by and their like-minded allies to end legalized , and in the United States. The movement has its origins in the during the late 19th century, although ...
spawned Women’s studies and
Black Studies Africana studies, black studies or Africology, in US education, is the multidisciplinary study of the histories, politics and cultures of peoples of African origin in both Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous ...
, for example.) In the 1980s and 1990s, "
interdisciplinary studies Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic discipline An academic discipline or academic field is a subdivision of knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone ...
,
multiculturalism The term multiculturalism has a range of meanings within the contexts of sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social ...

multiculturalism
,
feminist pedagogy Feminist pedagogy is a pedagogical framework grounded in feminist theory. It embraces a set of epistemological theories, teaching strategies, approaches to content, classroom practices, and teacher-student relationships. Feminist pedagogy, along wit ...
, and a renewed concern for the coherence and direction of the
undergraduate Undergraduate education ieducationconducted after secondary education and prior to postgraduate education. It typically includes all postsecondary programs up to the level of a bachelor's degree. For example, in the United States, an entry-level ...
program began to assail the Baccalaureate degree dominated by the academic major."


Major's significance

The academic major is considered a defining and dominant characteristic of the
undergraduate degree An undergraduate degree (also called first degree or simply degree) is a colloquial term for an academic degree earned by a person who has completed undergraduate courses. In the United States, it is usually offered at an institution of higher edu ...
. "The ascendancy of the disciplines in the late nineteenth century and their continuing dominance throughout the twentieth century have left an indelible imprint on the shape and direction of the academic major" and research affirms that the academic major is the strongest and clearest curricular link to gains in student learning. While general education is considered to be the breadth component of an undergraduate education, the major is commonly deemed the depth aspect. Choice of major has a significant impact on employment prospects and lifetime earnings.


Discourse and disagreement

Through its development, scholars, academics, and educators have disagreed on the purpose and nature of the undergraduate major. Generally, proponents of the major and
departmental system ''Departmental'' is a 1980 Australian TV movie based on a play by Mervyn Rutherford. It was part of the ABC's Australian Theatre Festival.Ed. Scott Murray, ''Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995'', Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p43 Reviews were poor. ...
"argue that they enable an academic community to foster the development, conservation and diffusion of knowledge." In contrast, critics "claim that they promote intellectual tribalism, where specialization receives favor over the mastery of multiple , where broader values of liberal learning and of campus unity are lost, and where innovation is inhibited due to parochial opposition to new sub-specialties and research methods."


Difference from academic concentration

In many universities, an academic concentration is a focus within a specific academic major, that is a field of study within a specific academic major. For example, interdisciplinary programs in humanities or social sciences will require a student to pick a specific academic concentration as a focus within their academic major, such as an academic major in Interdisciplinary Humanities with an academic concentration in Film or an academic major in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with an academic concentration in Geography. At several
art schools Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas or general notions that occur in the mind ...
and
liberal arts colleges A liberal arts college or liberal arts institution of higher education is a college A college (Latin: ''collegium'') is an educational institution or a University system, constituent part of one. A college may be a academic degree, degree-aw ...
, an academic concentration serves a similar function to an
academic minor {{Unreferenced, date=May 2019 An academic minor is a college A college (Latin: ''collegium'') is an educational institution or a University system, constituent part of one. A college may be a academic degree, degree-awarding Tertiary education ...
at other universities, that is an academic discipline outside of the student's academic major in which they take a number of classes. At
Brown University Brown University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly two de ...

Brown University
and
Harvard University Harvard University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly t ...

Harvard University
, however, the term "concentration" refers simply to the major field. At the
doctoral A doctorate (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be i ...

doctoral
studies level, an academic major or major field refers to a student's primary focus within their degree program while a minor or minor field refers to his or her secondary focus. For example, a doctoral student studying History might pursue their degree in History with a major field in War and Society and a minor field in Postcolonial Studies.


Impacted majors

An impacted major is a major for which more students apply for than the school can accommodate, a classic example of demand exceeding supply. When that occurs, the major becomes impacted and so is susceptible to higher standards of admission. For example, suppose that a school has minimum requirements are s of 1100 and a
GPA The pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit SI derived units are units of measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event ...

GPA
of 3.0. If a person applies to an impacted major, the school can raise the minimum requirements as much as needed to weed out the students that it is unable to accommodate. Because of this, some students may opt to apply to a school as "Undeclared". If in the above example the school implements requirements of SATs of 1300 and a GPA of 3.4 for the impacted major, a student may find it better to apply as "Undeclared" if they meet only the minimum requirements. However, many universities, such as the
University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or California) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization ...

University of California, Berkeley
, may in turn present more difficult requirements (such as a GPA requirement in certain prerequisite classes) to enter an impacted major even once accepted to the university overall.https://eecs.berkeley.edu/resources/undergrads/cs/transfer-prereqs


See also


References


Further reading

* * *


External links


Index of college majors
at
The Princeton Review The Princeton Review is a college admission services company offering test preparation Test preparation (abbreviated test prep) or exam preparation is an educational course, tutoring service, educational material, or a learning tool designed to ...

College major profile
at
The College Board The College Board is an American not-for-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective ...
{{Academic degrees Higher education in Canada Higher education in the United States School terminology