How to Double Major and is it Worth it? Guide

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Table of Contents: Double Major Guide
1. What is a Double Major?
2. How to Double Major
3. Downsides of Double Majoring?
4. Double Major vs Dual Degree
5. Frequently Asked Questions

How to Decide What to Major In

College students face a seemingly unending series of decisions. The process begins when choosing a school and does not end until graduation. One of the biggest decisions involves picking a major. Students typically spend the first few years exploring different subjects. These general education requirements provide students with a well-rounded education and may also help guide them in a direction of study.

However, what happens if a student cannot decide or wants to pursue multiple disciplines? Many colleges and universities offer double majors or dual degree programs. The phrase may sound familiar, but what does it mean, and how does one go about pursuing a double major?

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What is a Double Major?

Students who choose to double major need to complete the requirements for two different disciplines but still only earn one degree. For example, students who want expertise in environmental science and biology typically need to complete two separate degrees. However, with a double major, they can combine credits to earn both at the same time.

Students should not confuse double majoring with minoring. Generally, students need to earn about 18 to 30 credits to fulfill a minor. By contrast, finishing a major often requires earning 40 to 50 credits. The goals of majors and minors also differ. A major builds skills in an area and prepares students for a career. A minor may complement a major, or students could choose to explore other interests. Consider an engineering student who wants to learn how to play the piano but does not want to double major. This individual can instead opt to minor in music.

The process of choosing a double major varies by institution. However, most colleges and universities require students to meet with an advisor before making a decision. If approved, a student must then contact the university’s registration office to declare their double major before moving forward.

Why Earn a Double Major?

Some students choose to double major because they possess a passion for education and want to get the most out of their undergraduate experience. Others pick this option because they developed an interest in multiple subjects and want to stick with both. Still others see double majoring as an opportunity to specialize and gain a competitive edge in the job market.

Double majoring makes sense for students who plan on attending graduate school. Adding a second major provides more opportunities when pursuing an advanced degree. A student who picks two disparate majors gives themselves more options when it comes to areas of study in grad school. Those who pick two similar majors benefit as well. For example, an undergraduate who double majored in psychology and sociology stands a good chance of being accepted into a master’s program for social work.

Research suggests that double majoring can provide a financial boost. One study even found that innovation increases in students who double major. For this study, researchers defined “innovative” as a set of skills including networking, persuasive communication, working with diverse teams, and a willingness to take risks. The purported benefits also include an ability to connect diffuse material across different courses. Double majoring means taking classes in multiple disciplines, which can also increase one’s network.

The data varies, but roughly 20% of all college students decide to double major. That amounts to about one in four. Why so low? Well, simply put, double majoring adds a layer of difficulty. The rationale for double majoring varies from student to student. Even so, scholars who research higher education say double majors exhibit certain characteristics, including a desire to set and achieve goals.

How to Double Major

The process of formalizing a double major starts near the end of a student’s second year in college. A person can reach out and talk to an advisor if they know what they want to study or need some help deciding. Faculty can also serve as a good resource for students who want to learn more about the possibilities within a given field. Students should also consider talking to their peers to find out their experience with double majoring. These conversations should yield valuable insights into workload, stress level, and time management.

Advisors help students chart a course through their majors and outline any required courses. This guidance proves valuable, especially in certain situations, such as when a required course fills up. Advisors assist students with finding alternatives that meet their major requirements.

Most colleges and universities ask students to submit an application that includes a roadmap and a statement of purpose. The institution uses the statement of purpose to determine why a particular student wants to double major and how they plan to achieve this goal. Typically, a student cannot begin work on a double major until they receive approval.

How Do Credit Hours Work in Double Majors?

Double majoring does not necessarily mean more time in college. Careful planning and attention to detail can boost a student’s chances of finishing in four years. To start, students should work with their advisors to find out what courses work for both majors. Also, most schools require students to take about 30 credits worth of electives. Some of these classes can also satisfy major requirements.

Transfer students need to do a little more research. Most credits transfer if a direct transfer agreement exists between schools. Even so, transfers may not meet the required prerequisites for a major when they first start at a new institution. Students in this situation can opt to take these courses. Alternatively, students can contact an institution early in their academic career to determine which courses transfer and count as prerequisites. Of course, this only makes sense if the individual knows ahead of time where they want to transfer.

The UC San Diego, for example, follows many of the guidelines described above, but with some notable exceptions. Transfer students need to complete both majors within six quarters after coming to campus. Also, students need to get approval from the university’s undergraduate council if they want to pursue two majors within the same department. Bottom line: Students deciding to double major need to read the fine print.

What Are Some of the Downsides of Double Majoring?

College takes time and energy. Pursuing a double major takes a little bit more of each. Students who take this path should expect to take a full course load most quarters or semesters to graduate on time. Also, double majoring may cost more money and take longer to complete. However, this mostly depends on the student and how well they plan. A double major serves as a great way to build expertise in a field, but it comes with a cost. Students who use electives to fulfill major requirements get less of an opportunity to branch out into other subjects.

Students who double major may also need to take summer courses to stay on schedule. The additional workload can also make it harder to pursue internships and other outside-the-classroom learning opportunities, like study abroad programs.

Students looking for a less intense college experience should think twice before pursuing a double major. Similarly, those seeking a more robust experience, such as joining clubs or participating in student government, may need to limit their activities. This path makes sense for those looking to specialize in a particular field or who plan to pursue graduate school. Students not in these categories may want to consider other options.

Other Options

Students can seek other avenues besides a double major. For instance, students can choose to declare a minor. This approach offers some of the depth found in a major without as many courses. Those looking to develop a niche should consider specializing within their major. A chemistry major, for instance, could decide to specialize in biochemistry or organic chemistry.

Studying abroad offers students the chance to see the world while still taking classes. These programs often include a theme, such as the University of Texas’ Italian Approaches to Early Childhood Education program. Programs like these can serve as a great supplement to a student’s education. Finally, internships provide a means of connecting material learned in the classroom to the working world. Plus, they look good on a resume.

Double Major vs Dual Degree

As noted above, double majoring means earning the requisite amount of credits in two majors. A student who double majors earns only one degree but with two concentrations. Conversely, students enrolled in a dual-degree program graduate with two separate degrees.

Dual-degree programs typically take longer and cost more money than more traditional routes. However, completing two degrees at once can often save on tuition — rather than completing a second degree at a later date. Dual-degree programs lack flexibility regarding what classes students can take, whereas colleges and universities often let double majors design their own roadmap.

Students who complete a double major or a dual-degree program enter the working world with a leg up over the competition. In a side-by-side comparison, the advantage likely goes to those who graduate with two degrees versus those who double major.

When it comes to deciding which path to take, students need to consider their long-term goals. Prospective lawyers, doctors, or those looking to work in business should consider a dual-degree program. This approach is common because it builds expertise and makes applicants more competitive in the graduate admissions process. Students interested in careers that require specialization, but not necessarily an advanced degree, may want to consider double majoring.

Tips for Managing a Double Major

Double majoring and busy schedules go hand-in-hand. Still, students need to see this as a marathon and not a sprint. First, get some sleep. Research shows a correlation between an inconsistent sleep schedule and a drop in GPA.Lack of sleepcan also cause stress, anxiety, and depression.

Students should also plan to incorporate exercise into their routine, and not just for physical health reasons. Running, biking, and other physical activities get endorphins flowing, which help relieve stress and anxiety. Wellness practices like yoga or meditation can also help students achieve similar benefits. Students should also make time in their schedule to socialize and hang out with friends. Lastly, double majors may consider taking time to do nothing. A growing body of research suggests that people benefit from taking regular brain breaks.

Many colleges and universities offer gyms and health centers with licensed medical professionals, including counselors. Most schools also offer some kind of academic support, such as tutors or advisors. These traditional options might not work for everyone, so students should consider alternatives. For example, students pursuing a double major may benefit from forming a regular study group with other students on a similar track.

Coming up with a schedule makes it easier to do things like exercise or take breaks to see friends. Fortunately, students receive a valuable tool to aid this process at the start of every quarter or semester. The syllabus outlines everything that happens in a class. Take a look and note the deadlines for tests and big assignments. Enter this information into a calendar to figure out the big picture. This helps in two significant ways. First, students can create a plan of what they need to study and when. Second, students can see the stressful times in advance and can proactively put together a stress-reduction plan.

More Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can You Double Major in Grad School?

    Yes, students can double major in graduate school. The criteria vary by institution. Some institutions ask that graduate students apply and gain acceptance to both majors. Students who go with this option also need to complete degree requirements for both majors.

    Keep in mind that grad students typically write a lengthy thesis as part of their degree program. Some colleges and universities simplify this process for grad students pursuing a double major. For example, if both majors require a thesis, a student may only need to complete one to graduate.

    Students considering this option should really find out more before deciding. Talk to peers, faculty members, and advisors. Besides managing a full course load, consider that graduate students may also serve as teaching assistants or research assistants.

  • Should I Double Major for Medical School?

    GPA and MCAT scores carry the most weight in the admissions process for medical school. A student who double majors, but graduates with a lower GPA, may find themselves at a disadvantage compared to someone who pursues one major but finishes with a higher grade point average.

    However, double majoring can bolster a student’s application if they manage to keep their grades up and if the courses prove rigorous. For example, someone who double majored in English and journalism could run into problems when placed in the same admissions pool as someone who majored in biology and English. Medical schools also like to admit students who receive a well-rounded education. Students who plan to double major and attend graduate school should consider areas in different disciplines.

  • Should I Double Major for Law School?

    Some of the same guidelines mentioned above also apply to law school, with some caveats. GPA and LSAT scores play a significant role in the law school admissions process. However, law schools tend to emphasize involvement.

    Double majoring can bolster one’s law school application if the student maintains a good GPA. Unlike medical schools, law schools place the humanities on equal footing with the sciences. A student who double majors should consider mixing up disciplines. Someone who picks English as a major should think about adding economics or an area with a strong quantitative component as a second major. Law schools, like medical schools, prefer candidates with a diverse educational background.

  • How Should I Display a Double Major on My Resume?

    Recent graduates should consider putting their educational experience at the top of their resume. Those with a longer work history can probably move this section down. Double majors may want to draw attention to this fact through formatting. Think about putting parts of this segment in bold or adding an indent. Highlight solid GPAs and make them stand out. The easiest way to do this is by adding space between the degree earned and the final GPA.

    Also, consider order. A person applying for a job in forestry might want to put their environmental science major ahead of their political science major. Of course, the order depends on the nature of the position.

  • What Is Double Minoring?

    Minoring really boils down to credits earned. A student who takes three to five music classes likely completed enough coursework for a minor. Now, say this same student also happened to take a similar number of business courses. In theory, this person could graduate with a minor in business. The number of credits required to satisfy a minor varies by school.

    A student who chooses related electives might end up inadvertently completing two minors. Minoring helps build competency, if not expertise, in an area. Students who double minor give themselves a slight edge on the job market over those who minored in one subject.

  • Do Double Majors Make More?

    Evidence suggests that double majors can earn between 3.2% and 9.5% more in income than students who graduate with only one major. The area needs more study to ascertain if this extends to all majors or just to some.

    Students who plan to work for a technology company and double majored in computer science and economics stand to make more than someone who plans to become a teacher and double majored in history and philosophy. Also, the available data does not include long-term trends. A person who decides to double major may earn more now than someone who decides on one major, but that may change a few years down the road.

  • Can You Double Major and Minor in 4 years?

    Students can choose courses that meet the requirements for both majors. They can also use electives to achieve this goal. Seen this way, yes, students can finish a double major and a minor in four years. Careful planning and regular conversations with an advisor can help make it happen. Students who go this route may need to take summer classes to ensure they graduate on time. Also, those who go this route should expect a packed schedule every quarter or semester. Before deciding, students should really think about why they want to add a minor to their double major. In theory, adding a minor to a double major gives a student experience in another field and provides a boost post-graduation, but do the risks outweigh the benefits?

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