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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

The Pros and Cons of Double Majoring

I entered college as a writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major. I always knew I wanted to major in writing, as I’ve always had a passion for it. I also thought that developing my skills as a writer would provide me stable employment opportunities. But, there were always other things I was passionate about as well. It was hard for me to pour all of my attention into writing classes without pondering what it would be like to major in other fields. Every semester I would scan the course catalog and pick out all of the electives I wanted to take in a myriad of subject areas. I would contemplate how I could fit them all in and graduate on time. But, a large part of me didn’t want to take so many courses without receiving any credit or official documentation of them.

I don’t think that's a bad thought process. It’s one thing if you want to take one course in a topic you’ve always been curious about. It’s another to have many courses of the same topic that you would love to take, enroll in those courses, and never receive a degree for them. What stood out to me was that many of the “electives” I wanted to take were in the same subject area- political science. So, I crunched the figures and realized that I could fulfill the major and still graduate on time. All of a sudden it seemed like a no-brainer, I would double major.

Unfortunately, sometimes the decision is more difficult. Maybe double majoring would require staying an extra semester or an extra year because you took longer to decide or the second major requires more credits. Maybe you are interested in a wide variety of majors and can’t quite narrow it down to two. Maybe your school doesn’t offer the exact second major you want but has a certificate opportunity. There are so many variables to consider, both logistically, and emotionally. Here are some of my suggestions regarding how to decide if a double major is the right choice for you and what questions you should ask yourself as you’re deciding.

Your Desired Career

1. Is the second major necessary for your career?

This question is a bit of a no brainer. If you come in as an English major and later decide you want to be a doctor, it's important for you to start a pre-med track. Now, you could leave your English major and decide to only focus on medicine, but you could also choose to double major. This may depend on how far along you are in the first major, how passionate you are about the first major, and how you want to dedicate your time. Either way, if you know your career relies on the second major, adding it is vital.

2. Would the second major be advantageous for your career?

The second major may not be necessary for your career, but it may be advantageous for it. For instance, maybe you are studying physical therapy but you’re also really interested in psychology. You don’t need to major in psychology to have a successful career in PT, but it could be advantageous to have a psychology background. It could help you better connect with patients, understand their thought process and help them heal. Even if the double major isn’t required for the industry you’re entering, it may be helpful to think about if the second major would assist you in your endeavors.

3. Would the second major set you apart from others in your field?

Similarly to a double major being advantageous, it may help set you apart from others going into your industry. A psychology major may help set you apart from other physical therapists applying for the same position. Similarly, having an additional finance major may set you apart from other business majors and having an additional computer science major may set you apart from other writing majors. You still have to weigh your personal costs and benefits for adding another major to your plate, but it's something to consider.

Your Interest

1. Is the topic something you’ve always been passionate about that you won’t have the opportunity to learn about elsewhere in this capacity?

Even if you will never go into a career in art, if it is your passion, it may be worth it to add as a double major in college. College is an incredible opportunity to study the things you’ve always wanted to learn. You may never have another opportunity where such passions are so close to your fingertips. You could take a few electives in this passion, or you could dedicate an entire major curriculum to learning more about something you truly care about.

Your Time

1. Are you a novice, or expert in the topic? If you’re a novice, are you okay with taking the time to learn from the beginning?

Maybe you’re incredibly passionate about theatre and you really are considering it as another major. However, you’ve only ever been in one play. It may be worth it to you to double major, but it's going to take more time and effort to become an expert actor or actress than it would be if you had greater knowledge of the field to start with. If you’ve been in 100 plays, it may be less of a burden to add a theatre major into your schedule.

2. Can you complete the second major in the amount of time you have until graduation or would you have to delay your graduation? If you would have to delay, can you finance that? Do you want to take that extra time?

College is expensive. Unfortunately, this cost can be overwhelming for many. It's important to consider the time you have already committed to pay for and think about what you have already committed to accomplish within that time period. How much more would it cost to stay late to finish a double major? Are you physically willing to spend that time? Would you rather jump straight into a career? How much do you want the second major compared to these additional obstacles?

3. If you can complete the 2nd major in your originally anticipated graduation time, how will you make that happen?

If you know you want to do the double major, regardless of the cost or time involved, it's important to think about how you will practically be able to do that. Will you take more credits every semester, will you take summer classes, or will you stay a full extra year? Do any of your credits overlap? Are you able to talk to your advisor and see what classes may count for both majors? Think about these things before signing off on your second major.

4. What would you be sacrificing to make the double major happen?

You’ve decided on the double major. This inherently takes more time out of your daily schedule, even if you’ll be able to graduate on time. Understand what you might be giving up. You may need to sacrifice time with friends, extracurricular activities you love, downtime, and time to relax. You may also be sacrificing how much effort you can put into your other major or minor. Your own work may need to be of lesser quality than your normal standard to make the double major happen. Are you willing to make the time commitment considering all you may have to sacrifice?

The Takeaway

Nowadays you see students taking three or four majors. It’s become increasingly common to graduate with more than one degree. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it's worth it or that you should follow suit. Double majoring is something that should be explored on a case by case basis. Think carefully before making your decision.

For me, it was worth it. I was passionate about both subjects, I had the time to complete both majors and graduate in four years, and some of my coursework overlapped. This means that I didn’t have to overload myself (too much) each semester to get it done. I was able to learn about two incredible topics, engross myself in two fields, and learn about disparate subjects that interested me. It may not be worth it for you, but it was for me.


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