Pros and Cons of Being in a Small Major

With over a hundred different programs, Illinois is a very academically diverse university. However, that doesn’t mean everyone’s distributed equally across all majors. Some majors (like Finance or Psychology) have a huge number of students, while others like Dance or Social Work are a lot smaller.

I’m in one of those small majors—Astronomy. There was about 30 people in my freshman astronomy seminar, and I’ve never run into an Astronomy major outside my graduating class. Being in a small major is a lot different to being in a popular one—here are a couple reasons why.

The Pros:

1. You get a lot of attention from your academic advisor.

Last semester, I was really struggling with a couple of classes. I needed to drop one, but I wasn’t sure if it would work with my future schedule. Worse still, the deadline to drop classes was approaching fast. I absolutely needed to talk to my advisor.

In a big major, booking a meeting with your academic advisor might take a while. There are a ton of students to compete with for an appointment slot, and you might not be able to meet with your advisor for some time. Luckily for me, I didn’t have that problem—I was able to schedule a meeting the day after I realized I was in trouble.

2. You’ll probably be closer to your professors.

Small majors mean small advanced level courses, which mean lots of one-on-one interactions with your professors. It’s really difficult to get to know professors in huge classes—I can’t even see my instructor half the time in big lectures.

A small major will have a lot of small classes, making meeting your professor a lot easier. I’ve already had several interactions with the professor of my current astronomy course. Actually knowing some of your professors is super important—you never know when you might need a recommendation letter!

3. Making friends within your major is really easy!

Because there’s only a couple of you, making friends with other people in your major is a lot easier. I always do my astronomy homework with other astronomy majors because, well, they’re the only people I can do my homework with. Getting well connected with people going through the same as experience as you makes college a lot easier!

The Cons:

1. There’s not going to be a lot of people who can help you.

I got a lot of support from older students when I was in PHYS 211 (a huge class with about 700 students a semester). A great part about being in a big major is that there are a ton of upperclassmen out there who can help.

In a small major, getting help is a problem. If I get really stuck with a homework problem, I’m going to need to wait for office hours where I can talk to a teaching assistant or a professor. 400-level astronomy courses only have about 20 students a semester—I’ll be hard-pressed to find older students who can help me.

2. You might not know what to expect in courses.

There won’t be a lot of upperclassmen who can share their experiences about courses. As a result, you might be starting classes with no idea whatsoever on what to expect. What’s the workload like? Are the homework sets difficult? Is the professor a good lecturer? How should one study for the exams?

Although these questions may sound trivial, I’ve found that they’ve really helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle in college. I won’t commit as much time to a course if upperclassmen tell me it’s really easy, and I’ll work extra hard on a course if it’s notoriously difficult. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced in college is time management. Without the anecdotes of older students, it might take a longer while to grasp how a course works (and therefore how to best balance your time).

Choosing your major is a huge decision—you’re picking what you want to be studying for four entire years. However, I want to emphasize that how big or small your major is shouldn’t be a deciding factor. While there are several cons of being in a small major, I still love being in one. Astronomy is what I truly love to study, and I’m more than willing to work with the several disadvantages that I’m faced with. If you do what you love, nothing can stop you!



Class of 2022
I grew up in Hong Kong, China, and I’ve come across the world to Illinois to major in Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’ve always thought outer space is super cool, and I love that I’m learning everything that I can about it at Illinois.

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