Double Major: Is it a Good Fit for You?

Guide to the Double Major in College | How Do You Double Major?

Starting college is full of decisions that you will need to make and at some point, one question you will be confronted with is: Should you double major?

Earning a double major is increasingly popular as it gives you an in-depth understanding of two different fields. It can also make you a more competitive candidate during the job search and, eventually, a more highly paid employee.

Of course, it also means more work and a much tighter schedule.

So, what do you need to know to enable you to make the decision about double majoring and it is right for you?

Double Major’s and Dual Degrees

A double major is basically what it sounds like: studying for two majors at the same time. This means that students who double major will earn one degree but with two separate sets of degree requirements in different specialisations (e.g. a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology). When you double major, your two majors usually belong to the same academic department within your college or university.

A double major is not the same thing as a dual degree where you earn two separate degrees simultaneously, for example, UPenn’s Huntsman Program results in a B.A. in International Studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a B.S. in Economics from Wharton School.

How Do You Double Major?

Students often ask how it’s possible to complete coursework for two majors in the four years of a degree? To understand this you need to know something about course credits. For each course you complete you will be awarded credits, the number of credits earned will depend on the course and the college or university but typically to complete a bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits.

The breakdown of these credits varies, but it generally looks something like:

  • 40 general education credits

  • 40-50 major requirement credits

  • 30-40 elective credits

If you choose to double major, you can use your elective credits to complete a second set of major requirements. For students who double major in related fields, there may also be overlap in the upper level and major requirement courses. However, some schools limit the number of classes that can count toward multiple majors.

To help guide you through the complex considerations you will need to make, colleges and universities have academic advisors who will help you understand your options and ensure that you remain on track to complete both majors. These advisors may be senor students, graduate students or sometimes faculty members.

If you decide that a double major is for you then most schools, you will require you to complete paperwork to formally declare a double major together with an outline plan for earning the double major.  Additionally, some schools will ask you to write a statement of purpose describing why you want to double major. Once your request is approved, you can officially begin your quest for a double major.

 Should you Double Major?

The decision to double major is a personal decision that should not be made lightly. It does represent a major investment of your time and effort.

On the pros side a double major:

  • Demonstrates that you are motivated, hard-working, and determined.

  • Shows your expertise across two fields instead of one.

  • Can make you more competitive during the hiring process and lead to a higher salary.

On the negative side a double major:

  • Means you won’t have much space in your schedule for electives or interesting classes outside of your majors.

  • That your junior and senior years, which will involve almost all upper-level courses that count toward your majors, will be difficult. Your senior year, which will likely require two capstone projects or theses, will be especially challenging and time-consuming.

  • A focus on two majors might result in lower grades in both.

  • There’s no guarantee that a double major will lead to better career opportunities and/or salary.

  • You should ideally make the decision to double major early in your college career to ensure you can meet requirements in four years. Otherwise, you may need to make an additional commitment of time and finances.

Examples of Double Majors

A report by the Teagle Foundation in 2012 determined that these ten combinations were the most popular double majors:

  • Business and Business (any two majors related to business)

  • Foreign Language and International Studies

  • Foreign Language and Political Science

  • Economics and Mathematics

  • Economics and Political Science

  • Foreign Language and Biology

  • Foreign Language and Economics

  • Foreign Language and Business

  • Economics and Engineering

  • Foreign Language and Psychology

In a 2008 article published by The Economics of Education Review it was reported that students with education, social science, or business administration as their first major are more likely to add on a second major. Additionally, over 10 percent of double majors include a foreign language.

Ultimately, a double major should give you two sets of skills and knowledge related to the career field you plan to pursue, so foreign language and business majors, go hand in hand because of the global marketplace while business and communication or psychology are good combinations as well because successful business people must understand other people and how to effectively communicate with them. A communication related major can pair well with almost any other discipline. Hiring managers are increasingly citing poor communication skills—both written and verbal—as a weakness in new employees. Electing to double major can be a particularly useful strategy for students who want to pursue a major in a highly competitive field or where the financial returns can be challenging, for example somebody who wants to study art could consider doing a second major in business. By doing that they can learn marketing and business principles that may help you develop your creativity into a lucrative business while also preparing for a career in areas such as advertising and marketing.

The Bottom Line

Before making a decision, consider why you want to double major. If your reason is simply that you have two interests or passions, then you could pursue them through your elective courses rather than double majoring.

You need to ask yourself some tough questions, and answer them honestly

  • Are you a motivated student?

  • Are you willing to sacrifice fun or easy electives, some of your social life, and hours of sleep to earn this double major?

If you decide that a double major is for you try to choose two majors that will directly help you in your future career. Ask yourself how this double major will truly benefit you in the long run. If you find yourself struggling to answer the question, you may want to go with one major.

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