Academic Major

In the United States and Canada, an academic major or major concentration (informally, major or concentration) is the academic discipline to which an undergraduate student formally commits. A student who successfully completes the courses prescribed in an academic major qualifies for an undergraduate degree.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell introduced the academic major system to Harvard University in 1910, during his presidency there. It required students to complete courses not only in a specialized discipline, but also in other subjects. Variations of this system are now definitive among tertiary education institutions in the United States and Canada.

Today, an academic major typically comprises a core curriculum of prescribed courses, a liberal arts curriculum, and several elective courses. The amount of latitude a student has in choosing courses varies from program to program. Typically, the courses of an academic major are portioned in several academic terms.

A major is administered by select faculty in an academic department. A major administered by more than one academic department is called an interdisciplinary major.

Whereas some students choose a major when first enrolling as an undergraduate at a school, others choose one after beginning their studies. Some schools forbid students from declaring a major until the end of their second academic year.

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 credits to complete. (Compare with academic minor and joint honours.)

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