Double Majors Do Double Duty
Will a double major degree help you in the workforce?
By Elisa Kronish
March 04, 2009
Many college students choose a major simply because it interests them. Others decide on a major that will guide them toward a specific career. But what if you want to do more?
Depending on your school, you may have more options than you think. Adding a minor or a double or dual major can enhance your academic experience and give you an advantage when job-searching after graduation.
Majors and Minors
If you’re considering doing more than one major, you may be able to choose from several options.
The least demanding option is to supplement your major with a minor in another a field. A minor usually entails half the number of courses as a major. It’s a mini-version of the major, designed to give you a solid introduction to the field. A minor can broaden your knowledge and help you structure your studies. If you’re wondering what electives to take, a minor can help focus your course work.
The more rigorous options include double majors and dual majors. The exact definition of either choice varies from school to school, but typically a dual major consists of two related and integrated majors that complement each other. Classes overlap between the majors, meaning fewer classes are required than with a typical double major, so it’s easier to finish within your four college years.
A double major means you take on two separate majors and receive two degrees. Depending on how much overlap there is between the two majors, this option can be extremely demanding. And if you don’t decide on a double major right away, you might end up needing an extra semester or two to complete your requirements.
Some schools limit the extent to which you can double up; others offer you a variety of options. And depending on your school’s organizational structure and policies, you may not be able to combine majors “across colleges” – that is, from two different divisions of the university or college.
Effort vs. Benefits
It’s more work to do a double major or a minor. But is it worth it?
“Serious concentration in a secondary area can be extremely marketable, and employers are looking for that,” says Kathy Sims, director of the UCLA Career Center. “It really does seem to be a great value,” she says.
Part of the charm for employers is that your extra work demonstrates a willingness to take on difficult tasks. If your majors overlap, you demonstrate to employers that you possess breadth of knowledge as well as depth in a certain field.
Two separate majors can indicate that you’re flexible and adaptable. “With double majors, students are saying, ‘I am interested in viewing the world through more than one discipline’s set of lenses,’” says Marlene McCauley, associate academic dean at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.
And in terms of personal growth, additional credentials can boost your confidence and knowledge, which can also help you during job interviews.
Is It Right for You?
While you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the extra coursework of a minor or dual major, a double major is a big commitment. “I would say the student who successfully completes a double major is a goal-oriented, focused student,” says Henry Reiff, associate dean of academic affairs at Western Maryland College.
On the other hand, that kind of commitment will require that you make some serious choices. For example, the rigors of a double major can often mean giving up the freedom of electives. “In certain circumstances that can make sense, but as an academic advisor I place a lot of value on taking elective classes as well,” Reiff says. Electives help you broaden your knowledge and open you up to new areas of interest you may wish to explore.
Common Sense Combos
If you are committed to double majoring, it’s wise to start with a little planning. Choosing two courses of study that are related is one way to go. But maybe you’d like to round out your academics with two different fields. “The hottest combination would be a degree that is very broad and analytical and helps in communication skills, combined with anything technical,” Sims says.
Other pairings that work include a foreign language and economics, performing arts and business or journalism and political science.
“People need to be creative and think it through,” Sims advises. One way to go about it is to imagine a position you’d like to be in after college. What background and skills do you think would be valuable? What coursework would help you reach this goal?
If you’re considering any of these options, talk to an academic counselor and make sure you know all the policies for your school. Doubling your major will double your effort – but you may be rewarded with a great career!