You may be surprised by the number of unfamiliar terms associated with college and college life. Undergraduate, TA, accreditation, Greek life, the FAFSA—high school counselors and college admissions officers use these terms every day. Unfortunately, they don’t always stop to explain what each term means.
The “College Speak” series explains the college-oriented vocab that you need to be in the know and focus on the more important questions, such as “which school would be the best fit for me?”
Today’s terms are:
- department and program,
- minor, and
- core curriculum (or general education requirements).
Department and Program: Post-secondary schools may be composed of several departments, each of which is home to the faculty of a certain discipline. Examples of departments include Chemistry, Drama, Economics, and Religion.
Departments may exist alongside programs, which are interdisciplinary and combine faculty and courses from multiple departments. Programs usually offer their own courses as well. Examples of programs include Biochemistry, Cognitive Science, Environmental Studies, and Urban Studies.
Your major is your area of expertise, and students will often state their major if someone asks them what they are studying at school.
Every department and program has requirements for its majors to meet before they graduate. These include the completion of specific courses as well as a minimum number of courses within the department or program.
Most students choose a single major, and a major is required to graduate at most schools. Some students, however, choose two or even three majors. Because it difficult to meet the requirements of multiple departments or programs at a single time, “double majors” and “triple majors” are less common than single majors.
Minor: Some departments and programs at post-secondary schools offer a minor as an alternative to a major.
Similar to majors, minors must complete certain courses as well as a minimum number of courses within the department or program prior to graduation. A minor, however, will typically require less than 50 percent of the courses required for a major.
While a minor is not sufficient for graduation, it is a good way to get recognition for sustained study in a particular department or program that falls short of a major.
Core Curriculum or General Education Requirements: Many post-secondary schools have some type of core curriculum, or courses that all students must take prior to graduation. These are courses beyond those required by a student’s major or minor.
Individual requirements within a school’s core curriculum can be either very specific—e.g., “Freshman Writing Workshop”—or somewhat flexible—e.g., “an art or music class.”
At some schools, the core curriculum is purposely quite broad and requires the completion of courses in a variety disciplines. At other schools—such as those with one or very few departments—the core curriculum is indistinguishable from students’ major requirements.