Thinking of Doing a Double Major? Read This First

May 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

With hundreds of possible majors to choose from, how can you narrow it down to just one?  A double major answers that question by allowing students to pursue two different fields of study -- not to mention two different sets of requirements -- en route to the acquisition of a single degree.

While the data on double majors is surprisingly sparse, one 2013 report from the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, Double Majors: Influences, Identities, & Impacts, suggests that as many as 40 percent of college students at US colleges and universities are pursuing double majors. Which begs the question: Should you undertake a double major of your own? Read on for three pros and cons pertaining to the double major.

Three Pros of a Double Major

 

1. It supports creative thinking and original ideation.

The advantages of multidisciplinary studies are increasingly touted in the world of higher education. Research indicates that double majors open the door to stronger critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving abilities.

In addition to amassing more knowledge and broader skills, you also gain an invaluable broader perspective. These benefits holds up -- whether you combine a “practical” major and a “passionate” major or two related majors which uniquely complement each other, such as mathematics and physics or business and marketing.

 

2. You’ll have more career options after graduation.

Today’s employers are looking for students with the skills and talents necessary to navigate today’s complex global business landscape. A double major not only indicates that you’ve obtained a breadth and depth of knowledge, but also signifies sought-after initiative. Doing a double major, after all, is the definition of going “above and beyond.”

If your double majors are related, this may give you the inside edge over a candidate with more limited knowledge in a single field of study. Meanwhile, if your double majors are very different from each other, they may convey you as a refreshingly well-roundedness as a candidate.

 

3. You can always drop one.

No one will tell you doing a double major is easy. Hopefully, if you’re entering into a double major, you’re doing so informed and ready for the challenge. However, if it does get to be too much and you become overwhelmed by the workload, you have an advantage that a classmate with a single major lacks: You can always drop one.

Three Cons of a Double Major

 

1. It may take some sacrifice.

A double major can offer a vital inside edge, but you may have to make some sacrifices along the way. For starters, there may be financial implications. If your subject matters overlap in terms of core requirements, these costs may be minimal. But if your double major requires taking an extra-heavy course load, adding additional courses online or in the summer, or taking longer to graduate, then you may end up forking over more money across everything from tuition fees to accommodations to books.

Of course, the college experience is about much more than what you study. A double major can also have personal implications if a demanding workload interferes with your ability to relax, pursue other hobbies and interests, and spend time with friends and family members.

 

2. It divides your attention.

In very few cases does doing a double major amount to doing twice the amount of work. In reality, you’ll probably end up dividing your attention between your two majors. This can result in you delving less deeply into and ultimately learning less about both subjects.

It may also lead to another major problem. Even if you complete a double major in two incredibly challenging fields, a potential employer or graduate school admissions committee won’t be wowed if your grades are below par. In other words, a double major is only as impressive as your grades.

 

3. The extra time you spend studying may be better spent elsewhere.

There’s no arguing that choice of major is a factor with today’s employers. However, employers are also increasingly prioritizing something else: real-world experience. If you’re doing a double major, you may find yourself short on time for working and interning.

Hiring committees are also looking for extracurricular involvement, including leadership positions in clubs and student government; volunteer work; and international studies. If doing a double major causes you to fall short on these resume builders, then you may be doing more harm than good in opting for a double major.

The takeaway? While there no clear-cut answer regarding the question of whether or not to double major, one thing is clear:  Doing a double major for doing a double major’s sake is not likely to yield satisfying outcomes. However, evaluating the pros and cons; assessing your individual goals; consulting with your academic advisor; and seeking input from students who’ve gone the double major route themselves can help guide your decision about whether double majoring is right for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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