Is a Double Major Right for You?

It’s a tough challenge, but a double major can really pay off for motivated students.

By Ashley Henshaw | February 17, 2017

Before deciding you want to add a second major to the mix, it’s time to map out the remainder of your college years.
Photo: Thinkstock

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, double majors are on the rise. At elite universities, as many as 40 percent of students are graduating with two majors. This is not a path to take lightly, however – it’s no easy undertaking to tackle two majors in one go, especially if you hope to graduate in four years. Make sure you understand how to plan ahead and what to expect before you declare a second major.

Before declaring a second major, make sure you’re making an informed choice about your combination of majors.

Mapping It Out

Before deciding you want to add a second major to the mix, it’s time to map out the remainder of your college years. In order to save time and money, it’s wise to aim to complete your undergraduate degree in four years or less. This timeline is based on each student having one major, so taking on a double major can extend your timeline if you’re not careful.

If you’re still an underclassman when you decide to double major, you may be able to complete both in four years. However, it still may only be possible if everything aligns perfectly. Your classes would all need to be available at the right times, and you may need some of your required courses to overlap.

If you’re an upperclassman or if your two majors don’t overlap at all, it’s time to think about whether you can afford to stay in school longer to complete both majors. You may still be able to do it in four years if you take on an extra class each semester and/or sign up for summer classes. Otherwise, you may have to tack on an extra semester or two in order to complete all your required courses.

Financial Considerations

If you’ve found that a double major will require you to take extra courses, then finances should be factored into your decision. Every extra credit you take adds up to more tuition. For many students, that means taking on more student loans. Are you willing to take on more debt or pay more tuition in order to obtain a double major? The answer to that may vary based on the value that second major may offer for your future career (see below).

However, it’s not just tuition you need to consider. If you’ll also have to extend your undergraduate career past four years, you will also be losing out on time that you could be in the workforce earning money. Beyond tuition, there are the costs of rent, food, textbooks and student fees. Essentially, you need to decide whether you are capable of continuing to pay these expenses in order to obtain a double major.

Career Impact

There are benefits and drawbacks to having a double major as far as your career is concerned. When deciding whether a double major is right for you, you’ll want to consider these factors as well as your specific field in order to gauge whether it’s the smart choice.

The potential pros to having a double major are:

  • Proving your knowledge and expertise in two areas rather than just one
  • Demonstrating that you’re a motivated, hardworking individual
  • Showing that your interests extend beyond just one specific field

The potential cons to having a double major are:

  • Lacking a direct focus on one field (this applies when a second major isn’t applicable to the job)
  • Putting in extra effort/money when other applicants can show varied interests in other ways (a minor, research experience, internships, electives, etc.)
  • A false sense of security (having two majors doesn’t necessarily make you twice as qualified)

When deciding whether a double major is right for you, you’ll want to consider these factors, as well as your specific field, in order to gauge whether it’s the smart choice.
Photo: Thinkstock

What To Expect

Managing a double major is no easy feat. In order to tackle this challenge, you’ll need to be motivated and organized. The following tips will give you insight into what double majoring is like and how to handle it effectively:

  • A common pitfall with double majors is dividing one’s attention between two academic fields, which can result in lower grades in both. To avoid this, try scheduling your courses to focus on one of the two majors each semester.
  • Make sure you have meetings with an advisor from each department every semester. It takes a lot of planning to make sure you’re staying on track with your course requirements. Plus, they can give you the information you need on when classes will be available.
  • If you know what your double major will be early on, include as many of your major requirements as you can in your general education requirements.
  • Be prepared for a tricky final year. Many majors require a capstone project or thesis that is expected to be one of your most challenging academic endeavors. You may have to juggle two of these projects at once, so something may have to give (a part-time job, time with friends, an extra class you were planning to take, etc.).

Making a Smart Choice

Before declaring a second major, make sure you’re making an informed choice about your combination of majors. How will adding a second major benefit you in the long run? If you’re doing it solely out of interest in second topic, you may save yourself time and money by simply taking some elective classes or adding a minor. A double major, on the other hand, should have a practical purpose for your future.

When selecting your two majors, make sure they broaden your knowledge in the right areas for the career you want. Some combinations are more obvious, like an aspiring environmental engineer majoring in engineering and environmental science. For other careers, you may need to look at specific course offerings to see what type of skills and expertise you’ll be gaining. For instance, someone who wants to help nonprofit organizations grow and succeed might want to complement their social work major with a major in marketing. Whatever combination you choose, make sure it’s the best fit for the career you hope to have one day.

A double major can be more difficult to manage than you might expect. If you’re up for the challenge, however, it’s definitely doable...and for many students, a smart choice.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

5 Smart Double-Major Combos
How to Decide if You Should Change Your Major
How to Narrow Down Your Major Options
Liberal Arts vs. Career Majors: What’s Right for You?

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