In higher education, we know what is a major or a minor. What do we call it when there are only a cluster of courses, say 9-12 credit hours in the same discipline that is not part of a major like concentration or emphasis? The intent is to make them available to non-majors to broaden their credentials. In some professional disciplines like education or social work, the name 'endorsement' may make sense. In other areas, is there a name that is both intuitive and academically sound?

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    This isn't going to be a stand-alone program but rather something that student do within a regular degree program, right? In that case, even at 9-12 credit hours, "minor" or "concentration" might be used. I've also seen "specialization in" used. Jan 31, 2019 at 4:58
  • Thank you for the insight here. We require 18 hours for a minor whereas concentration is reserved for students within the major. You are right about the part that it is for students pursuing a regular degree program. Appreciate taking time to share.
    – Caleb Chan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:18

3 Answers 3


Such mini-programs are sometimes called certificates.

Certificate programs are sometimes meant to be completed stand-alone, often by students who are not enrolled in a degree program but are looking for continuing education in a particular area, e.g. to help with their career. However, they can also be taken on top of a bachelor's or graduate degree. They often consist of just a few courses.

As an example, you can read about my own institution's Certificate in Music Technology, which consists of 12 credit hours.

  • Like certificates... Some institutions do tailor specific courses for industry partners and there is a very strong link between Uni and Industry - many final year projects are Industry based - to the benefit of both sides...
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 30, 2019 at 13:29
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    A certificate program normally ends with the student receiving a diploma like award that is recorded on academic transcripts and reported to potential employers. It's different from a minor or concentration which are parts of regular degree programs. Jan 31, 2019 at 4:57
  • Thank you for the insights here everyone. We have often been told that certificates require demonstration/proof of "gainful employment." Is this not true (applicable) then when students are degree seekers and the certificates are just part of their bachelors degrees, rather than on top of them? I believe it also has to do with whether the students are getting financial aid when pursuing the certificates. Thanks again for shedding light here on this topic.
    – Caleb Chan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:08
  • @CalebChan: That would be up to the rules of your institution, or possibly your accrediting or regulatory body. I'm pretty sure my institution has no such requirement. As far as I know, we'll happily award that certificate to anybody who completes its requirements. Financial aid is a whole other question - it's quite possible that students in degree programs are eligible for more sources of aid. Feb 1, 2019 at 2:11
  • @NateEldredge: Thanks for the further clarification which is very helpful. Will definitely look into that more to see if there is any reason why we can't call them certificates.
    – Caleb Chan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:29

The following assumes the US. If these courses aren't meant as a package, then they might be collected under a heading like "course offerings for non-majors". If they are meant as a package, and there's a natural order to them (e.g. biology I, biology II), it's often called a sequence for non-majors. I'm not aware of a word for an unordered group of courses meant as a package.

  • Thanks for your comment here. After seeing some of the other comments, certificate seems promising if we can overcome the question on demonstration/proofing "gainful employment."
    – Caleb Chan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:14

As has been noted, if there is a certificate afterward, or some sort of formal recognition, "Certificate" is a common one.

"Concentration" is another one I've encountered being used, when it's not a standalone thing, but more of a group of classes that one could arrive at via a number of different paths. For example, we have a group of classes open to a number of different majors that adds a particular flavor to them, without actually changing the major itself, that gives them all a concentration in X topic.

  • Thanks for your answer here. We have been using concentration for a group of courses within a major. In other words, students are already in the major. They just choose different concentrations such as marketing or management in a business administration major. Thanks again. May go back and look at certificates.
    – Caleb Chan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 2:13

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