Everyone is worried about college-related issues these days. First, of course, there’s the economy. While improving, it’s still a tough situation out there. This leads to concerns about college affordability, which also leads to fears about unemployment and student loans once you have graduated. When these issues combine, it’s probably inevitable that we have a huge national dialogue right now about whether or not a college degree is even necessary. You’ve probably heard this often acrimonious debate in the media, because it has been raging for a few year now: back in 2010, Time magazine even went so far as to proclaim that a college degree is “overrated.” Yet recent studies refute this, showing a significant earnings gap between non-degreed workers and workers with some form of higher education.
I’d go even farther than these studies and argue that not only is a college degree necessary to achieve financial security, but it may be in your best interest to pursue a double-major. A double major can qualify you for a career in at least two different fields, and possibly more than that depending upon what you study. For example, while a degree in forensic science will prepare you for a job in that field, combining forensic science with another major in biology will prepare you for work in lab research, education, drug development, and countless other areas in addition to forensic science. Recent college student Tarah DeSantis, a double major in Linguistics and Spanish, wrote on Yahoo that a double major “looks great on a resume.” She said,
“When you can put that you don’t have one but two Bachelor’s Degrees, the employer that you are applying to will see you as a very hard-working, dedicated, motivated person. They will pick you over someone who only had one major in college. It really takes a lot of time management and hard work to double-major in college, and those are traits in a person that are crucial to almost all work places.”
It is possible to achieve the same result with an interdisciplinary major that combines several fields into one. But as the advising department at Columbia College in Chicago points out on their web page, a double major is substantively different from those who pursue interdisciplinary degrees. To earn an interdisciplinary degree, students are usually required to write proposals to their school, explaining how the degree will be structured, what it will contain, and a justification for the degree. Then they must acquire approval from all the departments involved in the degree components. A double major, by contrast, “requires the completion of two separate programs.” In other words, if you want to complete a double major, you have to complete all of the requirements for each individual major. There are no short-cuts.
That’s why some advisors caution students against pursuing a double major. In the article “Double Major, Double Trouble?: How to Know if a Double Major is Right for You” on HerCampus.com, Carly Sitzer warns that the current competitive job market means that employers are looking at GPA data to help them select job candidates, and that a double major can affect that. When she asked Saint Joseph College Associate Professor Eric Chen about this, he argued that,
“Double majoring is a rigorous endeavor. Extra courses may also strain the academic performance of even the best student. Graduation with extra credits is impressive. However, graduating with a lowered grade point average because you were shouldering the load of extra credits isn’t. Thereis no substitute of quantity for quality.”
This is definitely something to consider. A double major requires significant commitment, extra time, potentially more money, and little room for extracurricular activities or elective courses. As Naomi Rockler-Gladen pointed out on CollegeLife@Suite101, “Students with two majors simply don’t have as much time to explore interesting classes in other departments, which can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of a college education.”
So why would anyone want to earn a double major?
In addition to the potential for greater employment opportunities, a double major will give you the opportunity to develop more comprehensive intellectual abilities. Despite our current economics-centered focus on higher education, college is one of the few chances most of us have in life to vigorously throw ourselves into the pursuit of knowledge. You have access to great minds and great resources, and you may want to take advantage of that. If you feel obligated to focus on a career-path subject, but truly love another, such as history, there’s no reason to limit yourself and end up feeling cheated out of doing what you love. Perhaps in the future you can find ways to combine the two.
Despite all of the potential positives, Cornell University disagrees with the idea that a double major can help on the job market. Its “Majors and Minors” webpage argues that, “completing more than one major confers no demonstrated advantage in the job market, or in acceptance to graduate or professional schools. Choosing a major that you are genuinely interested in and enjoy will provide the strongest foundation for your future.” But if you are willing and able to achieve two majors at the same level of success as one major, you will be making the most of your opportunities to learn while in college, achieve personal satisfaction in devoting yourself to one of your passions, and may impress many potential employers.
Whatever you decide, remember that it is your decision and it’s up to you to weigh the potential drawbacks and benefits. Talk to admissions representatives, your advisor, and gather as much information as possible to help you make the right decision.