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Understanding Academic Major, Minor, Elective, Concentration, Double Degree, Capstone Course, Course Numbering

For students planning to study abroad, the diverse options, courses and combination of subjects can be overwhelming. Besides clarity on the discipline/field of interest, they need to understand how and why courses are numbered the way they are; what are electives and minor subjects- and does a student HAVE to take these. Some students start college knowing exactly what they want to major in. Others don't know what to major in because of limited exposure, or lack of clarity of a career goal. Those who are clear about goals may not know which majors will get them there. Typically, a combination of prescribed and elective courses in the chosen discipline is required to be completed successfully to qualify for a degree. An explanation to confusing terms like Major, Minor, Elective, Concentration, etc:

Academic Major is the academic discipline to which a student formally commits- ie- the specific area of study the student chooses to focus on while aspiring to complete a college degree. Once a major is decided/finalised, 35-50% of classes & courses will fall under this area of study. The major affects the academic track as well as the jobs which the student will be eligible for after graduation. The flexibility to choose courses for the major varies from program to program. Some universities may permit the student to design their own major curriculum, subject to faculty approval. In the US, undergraduate students are usually not required to choose their major discipline at the time of enrolment, and does not have to declare a major until the end of sophomore (second) year. Most colleges and universities require that all UG students take a general core curriculum in the liberal arts. Graduate and PhD students need to decide on a college major.

An academic major is administered by select faculty in an academic department. A major administered by more than one academic department is called an interdisciplinary major. The course extracts knowledge when two or more departments pool their approaches, modify their methodology and assess by thinking across boundaries. For example, the subject of Land Use appears in different contexts when scrutinized by different disciplines/departments like Urban Planning, Politics, Economics, Geography, Environment Conservation, etc.

A double major results in one degree with two areas of specialization/majors. Duration is the same as for a single-major degree and same price as a single-major degree. Students earn a double major when the two majors lead to the same degree name like BA, BS, BFA. Students with a major and minor can eventually turn their minor into a second major. In general, the number of hours and required courses is less in a double major than in a dual-degree program. Like students who declare one major, double majors usually need to complete 120 credit hours to earn a bachelor’s degree. But double majors typically must complete a longer list of required courses than single-major students. Students need to work out the specific classes and requirements to fulfill obligations for both majors. Some courses may overlap in both majors, and the student may need t take the class only once to fulfill requirements for both majors. Double majors are usually only available at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, dual-degree programs are popular as also programs that feature intensive tracks to cater to students' growing preference for specialized education.

A dual degree program lets a student earn two credentials in two distinct fields. These are more popular at the graduate level; along with programs that feature intensive tracks to cater to students' growing preference for a specialized education. The two degrees are typically distinct but may complement each other based on a student's career objectives. For example- dual degree in MBA and MS in Information Systems, or MBA with MS in Business Analytics. Students cannot usually create their own dual-degree programs and must instead choose from predefined options. Curricular requirements vary by program. Students usually need to fulfill practicum and capstone requirements for both degrees. While degree requirements differ depending on the  program, course overlap typically reduces the total number of credits a student must earn. Usually, students must complete at least 150 credits to earn two bachelor's degrees or a bachelor's + Master's degree. 60 credits are required to earn two master's degrees. Duration could be 5 years for two bachelor's; 5 years for a bachelor's + Master's, 3 years for two Master's. Dual degree program can also be based on a formal agreement within one college/university or between two separate colleges/universities (in USA. Upon completion of all requirements for both programs the student is awarded two degrees in one of the following combinations:
(1) Associate's and Bachelor's programs – an associate degree from a community college and a bachelor's degree from a partner university
(2) Dual bachelor's degree programs – two bachelor's degrees
(3) Dual Bachelor's master's degree programs – a bachelor's degree and a master's degree
(4) Dual Graduate Degree programs – a combination of DDS, PharmD, DO, MA, MD, MPP, MS, JD, MBA, MPH, or PhD.
In Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, concurrent-education programs are popular- Many teaching students study a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education simultaneously. In India, integrated dual degree programs – bachelor's degree and master's degree in 5 years – are commonly floated by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).

This is an ancillary major designed to complement the primary one. A coordinate major requires fewer course credits to complete.

This is a major where demand from students exceeds supply/availability of seats. When more students apply for a major than the school can accommodate, the major becomes 'impacted' and is liable to higher standards of admission. Many universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, may present more difficult requirements (such as a GPA requirement in certain prerequisite classes) to enter an impacted major even once accepted to the university. As a result, some students may opt to apply to a school as "Undeclared", particularly if they meet the minimum requirements.

Many colleges or universities allow students to declare a secondary field in which they take a substantial number of classes, but not so many as a major. Minors are not mandatory/required. Instead, they are offered as an optional way for students to explore another subject without having to declare a second major. The framework of required classes or class types a student must complete to earn the minor depends on the institution. To obtain an academic minor, a total of three years of study at a university in a selected subject is the usual requirement. Students prepare for their intended career with their major and pursue a personal interest with a minor. They could pursue a minor to gain specialization to become more competitive in the job market. eg- Students who intend to become secondary education teachers often major in their subject area (History, Physics, Biology) and minor in education. Students are usually only required to take a few courses to earn a minor, making it a relatively small commitment and a good way to expand college learning experience without compromising on graduation success.
Academic minors are usually associated with undergraduate degrees as a student's secondary focus, but can be taken at the postgraduate level as well, particularly in US institutions. As per Wikipedia, an example is- when a Political Science student pursues a major in American Politics and a minor in Political Theory. Another example is when a Religious Studies student pursues a major in Theology and a minor in History of Religion. Outside postgraduate study minors also exist at many universities – sometimes officially and sometimes unofficially. At Oregon State University, master's and PhD students are able to pursue an official postgraduate minor along with a major. At Florida State University, postgraduate minors exist unofficially on the grounds that a master's or doctoral student takes 9-18 credit hours in a secondary field outside the academic discipline. Some PhD students who pursue an outside PG minor, choose to integrate the minor field into their dissertation. In such case, with a scholar from their minor field serves as an outside committee member on the dissertation.

In many universities, academic concentration is a focus on a field of study within a specific academic major. It is as an optional tool to help customize college experience and helps choose a narrow path within a broad major. It indicates area of interest and expertise to potential employers. Declaring a concentration resolves the types of classes student will take to fulfill the degree requirements. A student majoring in Business, can declare a concentration in Entrepreneurship. A Sociology student can declare concentration in Anthropology. An IE/OR Engineering major can declare concentration in supply chain management. A Computer Science/Comp Engg major can declare a concentration in AI or ML. Some concentrations allow students to dig deeper into an aspect of their larger field of study, others are interdisciplinary. Some concentrations must be officially declared, while others are pursued simply by taking the required courses. An aspiring photographer might have difficulty locating a school that offers photography as a major degree program, but might choose to major in art with a concentration in photography. An English program with a concentration in creative writing could add value to aspiring writers. At Brown University and Harvard University, the term "concentration" refers simply to the major field

Is chosen by a student from several optional subjects/courses in a curriculum. It is not part of the core courses/general education courses a student must take. Elective courses tend to be more specialized and have fewer students in the classroom than the required courses.

Capstone course is synonymous with ‘culmination project’ or ‘senior thesis.’ Refers to a final year/semester assignment for students to apply their knowledge assimilated through the course to a particular project. Most capstone courses have multiple components, including presentations and written reports. It provides an opportunity to conduct group research to devise an innovative solution for a real-world problem. It consolidates academic learnings of students with valuable hands-on experience. This provides valuable insights into the demands and responsibilities of the working world, and understand the consequences of their decisions in a ‘safe space’. An elective is chosen as per the interest and passion of the student and are not mandatory to complete the degree.

In USA, most universities implement a common numbering system for courses, designed to make transfer between colleges easy. In theory, any numbered course in one academic institution should bring a student to the same standard as a similarly numbered course at other institutions, as per Wikipedia. Each course is identified by the name or abbreviation of the major followed by a 3-digit or 4-digit number. The first digit is related to its level/relative difficulty roughly corresponding to the year of study in which the course is likely to be taken. Second digit represents the subfield in the department that offers the course. In Physics department, all courses numbered PHYS 47xx could be about magnetism, all PHYS 48xx courses may be about optics. The attribution of the third and fourth digits is less standardized. Course number 101 is often used for an introductory course/beginner's level in a department's subject area.