Choosing a college major is an important decision, and it can also be a daunting one! Not only does a college major shape young people’s undergraduate experiences, but it paves the way to future careers beyond the campus.
Students interested in more than one subject or interdisciplinary studies don’t need to worry—yes, it’s absolutely possible to major in two things at once.
Pursuing a double major is not only very common, college students can also take advantage of several unique benefits and opportunities.
It’s worth nothing at the outset, though: majoring in more than one subject can be as challenging as it is rewarding. If they’re of interest, talking through options with an academic advisor is a great first step.
What is a double major?
A double major indicates that students have earned enough course credits to merit that designation in two separate degree programs.
A college major in general is conferred to students who successfully complete a corresponding degree program like biology, psychology, or economics, along with the number of credits required to graduate from the university.
Think of it this way: earning a degree in, say, computer science, requires that students successfully complete a set course of study in order to demonstrate skill and concept mastery. Undergraduate students will need to take specific coding, math, and science courses to earn the degree designation on their diplomas. If students choose to double major, that means multiplying that path and outcome by two.
Pros of double majoring in college
There are several major (no pun intended) benefits of double majoring in college. Here are a few of the top benefits of a double major.
Stand out from the crowd
A double major can showcase not only students’ range of academic skills, but also their ability to make connections, juggle a demanding schedule, and think outside the box. Whether applying for law school, an internship, or that first job out of college, successful completion of a double major can speak volumes about the applicants’ skills and background.
Expand career opportunities and potentially increase future salary
Deciding between majoring in creative writing and game design? Why not pursue both majors if the dream career is to create the next hit video game. Great careers don’t unfold in a vacuum, so by expanding horizons to more than one major, students expand opportunities to find a career that’s a perfect fit.
Plus, a recent study from Cambridge University suggests that when students combine a liberal arts degree with a STEM or business-oriented major, their future salary prospects can increase.
Enrich undergraduate learning
If taking classes both through a university’s college of engineering and liberal arts is of interest, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Students will meet more students and professors, experience different types of college classes, and explore fascinating areas of study more deeply than through dabbling alone.
Cons of double majoring in college
Is double majoring worth it? Like many of the important decisions students make in college, there are benefits and drawbacks to double majoring. It’s important to consider potential downsides, so here are a few to bear in mind.
A double major does not guarantee higher salary
Research is limited in this area, and the results that are out there are mixed. A 2017 study suggests that double majoring does not increase the likelihood of future job satisfaction and may only have a limited impact on salary.
The study found that students who major in STEM typically earn the highest salaries upon graduation, and adding a non-STEM major does not increase income.
Read more about the best STEM careers.
Limited scheduling flexibility
Double majoring, well, doubles the number of graduation requirements students will need to meet. That means that there will be less time for elective courses, and pursuing opportunities like study abroad, for-credit internships, or service learning programs may be more of a challenge.
Increased academic demands
There’s no doubt that double majors can be beneficial to certain students, but this path definitely isn’t for everyone. Strong organization and time management skills are essential for success, and if those aren’t necessarily a student’s strong suit, a double major probably isn’t the right fit.
5 Tips for pursuing a double major
About 20% of college graduates choose to double major, so if students decide it’s of interest, here are five pro tips for success.
Work closely with an academic advisor
First things first, students should work closely with their academic advisor to choose two fields of study that align with their academic and career goals. In the process of doing that, they may decide that selecting a major and a minor, rather than a double major, is the best decision for them—and that’s ok too!
Think and plan ahead
As mentioned above, meticulous planning is essential to completing two degree programs. It’s important to note when requisite courses are offered and prioritize taking them accordingly.
Keep a clear “why” in mind
What is the objective of double majoring? For some students, it's an in-depth exploration of two topics they’re passionate about. For others, it might be improved job prospects or chances of admission to graduate school.
As students progress through their double major, they should take full advantage of opportunities that will further their future goal. This could include working as a TA for a favorite professor, seeking internship opportunities relevant to both fields of study, pursuing interdisciplinary research, and more.
Manage schedule and workload carefully
With the increased demands of a double major comes an increased risk of high stress and even burnout. Students should think carefully about how they will balance their double major with extracurricular activities, jobs, and - not to be overlooked - time to unwind.
“Try before you buy”
This adage is absolutely applicable to double majors: after all, they are (literally) an investment. Before officially declaring a double major, students should try out introductory-level courses in both fields of study and see how it goes. That way, if they decide that a single major or minor might be better suited to their academic needs and goals, there’s no harm in changing their minds!
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