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Does it Make Sense to
Double Major? Expert Advice, Resources & Help Deciding if it’s Right for You

A few decades ago, simply having a college degree was enough to almost guarantee full employment earning a respectable wage, but this is no longer the case. As a result, the job market has become much more competitive for college grads. To stand out from their peers, some students will double major, hoping future employers will take notice. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Some students also choose to double major simply to increase their level of learning in college. The purpose of this guide is to shed more light on when it might be a good idea (or bad idea) to earn two college majors.

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What is a Double Major?

The exact definition of “double major” will depend on the specific school’s policies and terminology. However, the general definition of double major is simply two college majors within one college degree. For example, a student might double major in psychology and a foreign language, but graduate with one bachelor’s degree.

In many postsecondary institutions, a double major and dual major will be the same thing. However, in certain instances, they will be different. A double major does not mean a major and a minor, as a minor requires far fewer courses than a major and is therefore easier to obtain.

At some schools, the terms “dual major” and “double major” mean very different things. At these institutions, a double major consists of two majors in completely different areas of study while dual majors are two majors in two similar areas of study. For instance, two majors in chemical engineering and art history will result in a double major at these schools, while two majors in business and economics will be a dual major.

This difference is more than just a name. Schools with this type of differentiation will allow students with double majors to graduate with two separate college degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts.

Difference Between a Double Major and a Dual Degree

The end result of a double major is the earning of one degree, while earning a dual degree results in two degrees. Exactly how this works will depend on the school’s specific rules and the type of degrees chosen.

At some schools, students who double major in unrelated fields, like history and nursing, will get dual bachelor’s degrees. And if the student majors are in a related field, like business and economics, they will only graduate with one degree, yet still have a double major.

There is also the possibility of a dual degree at different academic levels. For instance, students may enroll in a dual degree program where they earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting along with a master’s degree in accounting. Earned separately, it might take six years to complete both degrees. But with this dual degree program, it takes five years. Dual degree programs are completely different from double majors.

How to Double Major

If most college students take four years to earn one major, how is it possible to earn two within the same time? The typical bachelor’s degree consists of 120 credits to complete. The general education requirements make up about 40 credits while a major will require about 40-50 credits. This leaves roughly 30-40 credits available for electives, or a second major.

While the math shows it’s possible, students will need to take the necessary procedural steps to official declare a double major. At most schools, it will take the following two primary steps.

Speaking with an academic advisor is often a requirement for students before acceptance into a double major track. An academic advisor can help ensure students get the right courses in the right order. If a chosen class in unavailable, they can suggest alternative courses. They can also bring to the student’s attention certain policies that may stand in the way of the double major. For example, some schools have limits on accepting overlapping courses, which are courses that can satisfy multiple academic requirements, such as a basic course needed for both majors a student is pursuing.

Those wishing to double major will need to complete a special application or petition. This will typically include a course outline or roadmap of how they plan on earning the double major. It may also include a statement of purpose that includes the reasons why they want to pursue two majors. Only after the college or university approves the request is the double major possible.

Pros & Cons of Double Majors

A double major sounds great, but it requires a lot of extra work and sacrifice. And in some instances, it doesn’t help a graduate earn any more money or have any better job prospects at graduation. The following is a list of advantages and disadvantages of earning a double major.

Pros

  • Can improve job prospects. Some employers may look highly on a student with a double major thinking it reflects a strong work ethic, a genuine interest in a particular area of study, top-notch organizational skills and a more diverse level of knowledge.

  • Can increase the student’s earning potential. Studies have indicated a double major can result in a 3.2 to 9.5 percent increase in income compared to a fellow college graduate with just one major.

  • Deeper level of knowledge. While a double major student may have taken the same number of courses as a single major student, their level of knowledge in the majors will be far more detailed than someone who earned a minor or took a variety of electives.

  • More potential career paths. A student with one major might be confined to only a few potential career paths. Those who choose a double major can look forward to even more career options.

  • Sense of pride and personal accomplishment. Students who graduate with a double major can let out a deep breath and congratulate themselves on completing what not too many students achieve or even attempt.

Cons

  • Can delay graduation. College is usually intended to be completed in four years, but double majoring can easily add an extra semester, year, or even longer to the time it takes to finish college.

  • Can make college more expensive. Even if a student can double major in four years, that means they probably could have graduated with a single major in less than four years. The extra time spent in college increases the cost of a college degree, particularly at schools where students pay tuition on a per-credit basis.

  • Fewer opportunities to explore new areas of study. By working toward a double major, students often must sacrifice the ability to take electives that are completely unrelated to their chosen area of study.

  • Busier academic college life. By earning a double major, students will have more specific classroom requirements and must be organized to earn all the necessary credits. This can sometimes lead to heavier course loads for several semesters.

  • Students may need to choose a major earlier. Because of prerequisites, students may need to decide on majors as early as their freshman year. This allows them to get courses organized properly from the very start.

Double Major FAQs

College Credit from High School

Another way double majoring is possible is by entering college with a few courses already completed. For example, students who take several Advanced Placement courses in high school may enter college with up to a semester already completed. Getting these important general education courses out of the way can open up an entire semester for courses within the major and might even allow for a few electives based on interest, not on requirements.

Tips for Managing a Double Major

If you make the decision to obtain two majors in college, keep the following tips in mind to make the process as easy as realistically possible.

  • Talk to your advisor. Every time you choose your courses for the next semester, run it by your academic advisor to make sure you’re staying on the right track for obtaining both majors on schedule.

  • Focus on school. It’s simple: the more time you can devote to school work, the better you will do. If you can avoid working or work only part-time instead of full-time, your double major will be much easier. You might even have a higher GPA.

  • Look for support. It’s likely that there will be a point during your college career where you question whether getting a double major was the right decision. Having friends to provide encouragement and reassurance can be like a breath of fresh air.

  • Be efficient with course selection. If your school or department allows up to four classes to overlap and count toward both majors, take them! Even if you could still graduate on schedule by only three, taking all four will provide a cushion in case you run into any hiccups along the way.

  • Start as soon as possible. The sooner you decide on your two majors, the more flexibility you’ll have when choosing classes.

  • Create a four-year map. Carefully plan out your courses. Double check this map for accuracy every semester, in case classes are no longer offered, department policies change or the availability of a class changes.

  • Develop a backup plan. Whether it’s turning that second major into a minor or having a second or third choice class ready in case your first choice is full, having a backup plan is always a good idea.

  • Keep stress low. As a college student, double major or otherwise, you will get stressed out. Find a constructive way to handle it, or your decision to double major could end badly.

Interview with a Double-Major Student

Michael Kosowski is a graduate of Binghamton University, and currently serves as a Senior Account Executive at HeraldPR, a Fifth-Avenue-based public relations firm. While his hobbies include learning new languages and experiencing new cuisines, he is also trying to juggle his time taking night-classes in Psychology at Columbia University.

Q. Why did you choose to double major?

A. My original plan when I started Binghamton in 2012 was to pursue an art history major and a Russian studies minor. I took art history and Russian in high school and was rather in love with both. I found, after some time, that my interests were shifting more towards my language and area-studies skills, and away from art history. I completely finished my art history major by junior year and all of my Russian Language courses by junior year as well. So by senior year, I was able to work on a Russian honors thesis. I chose to “bump-up” my Russian minor to a major when I began to realize that a major in “Russian and Eastern European Studies” would allow me to take more than just Russian courses – I took Yiddish as well!

I had a background in working political campaigns in NYC, so I knew how important Russian was if I wanted to go into political strategy (which I did – HeraldPR was originally Herald Strategies). My first summer after graduating – I worked in Brooklyn and used my Russian and Yiddish for political purposes (getting signatures on omnibus petitions – especially in Williamsburg!)

Q. Were there any surprises along the way?

A. I was surprised by how accommodating the Russian and art history departments were to me in Binghamton. I can cite two amazing instances. The art history department knew I wanted to spend senior year working on my Russian honors, but in the last half of my junior year, I had a very big scheduling conflict with an art history class called theory and methods (the last seminar that’s required for all art history students). I asked if I could be placed in the graduate level class (theory and methods 500 instead of theory and methods 400), and it was approved almost immediately, and I was on my way to finishing my major when I wanted to.

The Russian studies department was the same. They offered a lot of options for ways to meet the department’s requirements – so if you couldn’t take/get into one class, there were about four others you could choose from. They also accepted classes from other departments (in my case, Yiddish!).

Furthermore, this didn’t happen to me, but if someone was about to graduate on-time but couldn’t get into one of the Russian politics classes (from the political science department – they are incredibly difficult to get into because there are Russian majors, international relations majors and political science majors all trying to get into these classes) the Russian department would organize an independent study for you – so you could graduate on time. 

Q. How did having a double major help your job prospects?

A. I now do PR for several art galleries, including J. Greenstein and Co – the only auction house in the world that solely deals in Judaica. I am the reason that J. Greenstein’s auction of Joan Rivers Seder plate got in the NY Times. Another client of mine, COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations) is the leading voice for the Russian-speaking Jewish community in NYC. I’m very proud to use my Russian working with COJECO. 

When my firm would do canvassing for politicians in Brooklyn, I would use my Russian and Yiddish on a daily basis.

But more so, art history and Russian and Eastern European studies helped me learn two very important skills: writing and communicating. Now, I went to a high school on the Upper East Side that stressed learning both as well – and all of us more or less graduated as competent writers and speakers. But my majors taught me how to argue a point/argue about a vague period of history. My whole understanding of how to do a PR pitch is because I’ve had to really look at a painting so many different ways – and think of all the ways to argue about it. 

Q. What advice would you give those pursuing a double major?

A. You absolutely must take in each department’s expectations and culture. What I mean by this is, I didn’t double major in AstroPhysics and English. I did two things that were rather humanities-based, and I functioned between two departments that relatively understood each other. I was extremely lucky I graduated on time because the Art history department and the Russian department were very flexible with me.

You also have to be extremely organized as well. You literally have to MEMORIZE each department’s requirements for a major – and keep that in mind every time you pick a semester’s classes. You have to plan classes more than a semester ahead. If you don’t get into a class you NEED – you NEED to ask for help – if you don’t get the help you need – you need to make “a stink” and push your way into a class. Professors only will remember how keen you are to work with them. 

Q. Anything else you’d like to add about double majors?

A. Advisors are crucial! Nancy Titler of the Russian department at Binghamton honestly would welcome me in her office whenever I needed help picking classes. Honest advisors are the most helpful ones. She knew my strengths and weaknesses and really worked with me hand-in-hand for my Russian honors project. I couldn’t have done it without her.