As you choose your college major, here’s a question you may or may not have considered: Should you double major?
Earning a double major gives you an in-depth understanding of two different fields.
- It can also make you a more competitive candidate during the job search and, eventually, a more highly paid employee.
Of course, it also means more work and a much tighter schedule.
It’s a tough decision, but we’re here to help! Read on for the answers to all your questions about double majoring.
What Is a Double Major?
A double major is basically what it sounds like: studying for two majors at the same time.
This means that students who double major must complete two separate sets of degree requirements.
In most cases, students who double major earn one degree with two specializations (e.g. a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology).
What’s the Difference Between a Double Major and a Dual Degree?
Colleges and universities may differ slightly in the terminology they use. Generally, however, a dual degree means that you earn two separate degrees simultaneously.
For instance, you may earn a Bachelor of Science while also earning a Bachelor of Arts, or you may be able to work toward your bachelor and master’s degrees at the same time.
- Some schools offer programs specifically designed to result in a dual degree.
- The University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Program, for example, culminates in a B.A. in International Studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a B.S. in Economics from Wharton School.
A double major, on the other hand, typically leads to one degree with two concentrations or areas of specialization.
- When you double major, your two majors usually belong to the same school (the same academic department within your college or university).
For example, a student hoping for a career in international business could choose to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Spanish.
Either way, you will complete two sets of requirements and earn credentials that make this accomplishment clear to employers and graduate schools.
The key difference is that double majors are typically awarded by the same department, while dual degrees come from two separate departments.
How Do You Double Major?
Students often ask how it’s possible to complete coursework for two majors in the span of four years.
Typically, completion of a bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits.
The breakdown of these credits varies, but it generally looks something like:
- 40 general education credits
- 40-50 major requirement credits
- 30-40 elective credits
If you choose to double major, you can use your elective credits to complete a second set of major requirements.
- You’ll only need to take one set of general education courses to count toward both majors.
For students who double major in related fields, there may also be overlap in the upper level and major requirement courses.
However, some schools limit the number of classes that can count toward multiple majors.
The Importance of Your Academic Advisor
Sound complicated? That’s what academic advisors are for!
If you choose to double major, you’ll want to check in with your advisor regularly to ensure that you’re on track for both majors.
Often, speaking with an advisor is also a requirement for declaring a double major.
- At most schools, you will also need to complete paperwork to formally declare a double major.
- You may be required to outline a plan for earning the double major. (Your advisor can help with this step.)
Additionally, some schools will ask you to write a statement of purpose describing why you want to double major. Once your request is approved, you can officially begin your quest for a double major.
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Should I Double Major?
The decision to double major isn’t one that should be made lightly. It does represent a major investment of your time and effort.
Below, we’ll look at the pros and cons of double majoring to help you decide.
- Earning a double major demonstrates that you are motivated, hard-working, and determined.
- A double major also shows your expertise in two fields instead of one.
- This distinction can make you more competitive during the hiring process and lead to a higher salary.
- You’ll gain a diverse knowledge base that can help you become more successful in your future career.
- You won’t have much space in your schedule for electives or interesting classes outside of your majors.
- Your junior and senior years, which will involve almost all upper-level courses that count toward your majors, will be difficult. Your senior year, which will likely require two capstone projects or theses, will be especially challenging and time-consuming.
- The decision to double major should be made early in your college career to ensure you can meet requirements in four years. Otherwise, you may need to make an additional commitment of time and finances.
- A focus on two majors might result in lower grades in both.
- There’s no guarantee that a double major will lead to better career opportunities and/or salary.
The Bottom Line
Before making a decision, consider why you want to double major.
If your reason is simply that you have two interests or passions, there are other ways to incorporate both into your college experience.
- You can earn a minor or take multiple elective classes in a second field, for example.
Additionally, you know yourself better than anyone else does. Be honest:
- Are you a motivated student?
- Are you willing to sacrifice fun or easy electives, some of your social life, and hours of sleep to earn this double major?
- Will you regret the decision when it ends up being a lot of work?
If you want your double major to pay off, choose two majors that will directly help you in your future career.
Ask yourself how this double major will truly benefit you in the long run. If you find yourself struggling to answer the question, you may want to go with one major.
Unsure what double majors might benefit you? Check out the list of examples below.
Examples of Double Majors
A 2012 report by the Teagle Foundation determined that these ten combinations were the most popular double majors:
- Business and Business (any two majors related to business)
- Foreign Language and International Studies
- Foreign Language and Political Science
- Economics and Mathematics
- Economics and Political Science
- Foreign Language and Biology
- Foreign Language and Economics
- Foreign Language and Business
- Economics and Engineering
- Foreign Language and Psychology
The Economics of Education Review reports that students with education, social science, or business administration as their first major are more likely to add on a second major.
Additionally, over 10 percent of double majors include a foreign language.
Ultimately, a double major should give you two sets of skills and knowledge related to the career field you plan to pursue.
- Foreign language and business majors, for example, go hand in hand because of the global marketplace.
- Business and communication or psychology are good combinations as well, because successful businesspeople must understand other people and how to effectively communicate with them.
In fact, a communication related major can pair well with almost any other discipline. Hiring managers are increasingly citing poor communication skills—both written and verbal—as a weakness in new employees.
Are you passionate about art, but unsure if it will pay off financially in the future? You might consider majoring in business and art.
This way, you can learn marketing and business principles that may help you leverage your creativity into a lucrative business.
- These majors could also prepare you for a career as an in-house graphic designer for a company or a marketing agency.
If you’d like to run a nonprofit organization, you may want to combine degrees in social work and marketing.
A future environmental engineer could choose to double major in engineering and environmental sciences.
Tips for Managing a Double Major
If you decide to declare a double major, you’ll need to be organized and motivated. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:
- Declare early. The sooner you declare your double major, the sooner you can begin working toward your requirements.
This helps ensure that you don’t need to delay graduation or spend more on tuition.
- Talk to your advisor. Make sure you meet with your advisor at least once per semester. They can help you with developing a plan to stay on track. They’ll also know when the courses you need will be available.
Have your advisor help you develop a four-year plan for completing both majors on schedule.
When possible, find courses that overlap and can count toward both majors.
- Be efficient! If you plan properly, you won’t have to take more classes than the average student; you’ll just take more classes that count toward something.
Understand that your decision to double major may require sacrifice.
Try to avoid part-time or full-time work if possible, and be prepared to limit your social life when necessary.
- Build a support system. Surround yourself with supportive family members and friends who understand your time commitment and will offer encouragement.
- Find ways to de-stress. Whether it’s yoga, music, or playing a sport, find something that helps you relax and de-stress.
This will be crucial to keep you from burning out in pursuit of your double major.
Remember, earning a double major is definitely doable! You’ll just need to have a solid plan and a willingness to work hard.
Advice from Experts and Former Double Majors
We’ve taken the liberty to ask successful professional and college students about their experiences with double majoring.
These quotes give you a firsthand look at what to expect when you choose a double major in college.
From Lynn Laufenberg, associate professor of history and pre-law advisor at Sweet Briar College:
Double-majoring (or triple-majoring or majoring and minoring — all combinations) is a complicated subject.
I am, in general, a proponent of allowing students to put together combinations of majors/minors. The catch is, they must be disciplined, mature and academically strong. They must be students who are pursuing (in some depth) more than one discipline because they are truly challenged and stimulated by doing so. We make an argument against double-majors by saying, “a student can just take a few classes in another subject outside her major.” Yes, but thoughtful students who are stimulated by several subjects might want more than a course or two. Taking two courses in biology or music or history doesn’t give you a good sense of the richness of that particular subject.
Concentrating in more than one subject makes you intellectually nimble and versatile. It introduces a student to more than one way of thinking about the world. Unusual combinations of majors/minors make students stand out in a pool of grad school or job applicants. It makes them vibrant and unexpected as grad-school applicants. Business with almost anything else makes an attractive MBA/job applicant. Business majors are myriad. What makes you stand out?
A student who can articulate why she chose her particular majors/minors has a huge advantage. One of our students double-majored in history/music and minored in medieval and Renaissance studies. She came here thinking she wanted to be a high school music teacher. She’s now in her first year of grad school at Oxford for medieval musicology. She built her program as she went along here, growing on the way.
There doesn’t have to be an obvious “logical” coherence of combination majors/minors, although a student should be able to articulate why she wanted to pursue the ones she chose. That being said, there are many “obvious” combinations: political science/history/philosophy, classics/art history/history/archaeology, engineering/physics, chem/bio, music/theater, etc. These aren’t “bad,” and our triple-majors this year are making very good use of that. They have coherent programs that will help them achieve their post-grad goals.
This is usually the one time in a person’s life that they can experiment intellectually. Most careers won’t allow much time for that.
Many students think that “piling on the credentials” will help their future career/educational paths. Not always true. There’s no benefit in having a lot of credentials, but a lousy GPA. A student who can’t speak persuasively about why she chose multiple majors/minors (and who is having academic difficulty pursuing them) should probably be concentrating on one course of study.
And students who are heavily invested in athletics, student clubs/organizations, volunteer work, etc., should think very carefully about more than one major.
From Matt Ruth, a graduate of Lycoming College:
I found double majoring to be incredibly helpful, not only during college academically, but especially worthwhile when considering roles and interviewing in Washington, DC and in New York City thereafter.
A marginal benefit is applied to those that double major in not only the wealth of academics one learns during classes, but also in one’s flexibility to apply it when targeting jobs. I can confidently say that none of my positions since graduating would likely have been possible without having both majors on my resume, as they serve as complimentary skillsets, further providing both right and left brain critical thinking.
I now work in corporate communications and marketing, and although neither major has directly impacted my current position, both have set the foundation for career progression and my eventual cross-functional development.
From Logan Matthews, founder of Skoller:
I double majored in economics and politics & public law at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. I felt like double majoring was the perfect choice for me. In my case, I was able to study two sides of the same coin. I saw how economics was applied to policy, and then how that policy was able to be implemented through the political system. I loved being able to apply political theory to economic discussions and vice-versa.
One element I disliked was the lack of interdisciplinary cooperation. I felt like there is a lot of opportunities for the two departments to collaborate and make it a special track for students. For example, I had to take econometrics for my econ degree and then also social science research methods for my PPL degree. This was repetitive, and I could have had the opportunity to take more electives without having to double up on a research methods class. However, the skills learned in those cases have proven useful for data analytics.
From Lindsey Turnbull, founder of MissHeardMedia:
I double majored in college and got dual degrees- a BA in history with honors and a BA in anthropology. For me, double majoring helped me to sharpen my critical thinking and research skills, as well as better understand and recognize patterns. Because of my double major, I can write quickly and well, which is a major asset in my professional life.
I did not like that the upper-level classes all required a ton of writing and research- and having to take a lot of prereqs meant that I took all the upper-level classes at once, which was quite stressful.
From Audrey Wick, a professor and author:
I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication and English from Sam Houston State University in Texas. Doing so helped me get the most mileage from my degree, and I was able to graduate in four years’ time with this double major.
Yes, this was a useful degree for me because it provided a solid platform to launch my career: I am a professional educator and writer. After going on to earn my Master of Arts degree, I landed full-time employment teaching classes at a community college. This also allows me to pursue creative writing, and I have used my dual major to that end as a novelist. My first two women’s fiction novels were released by a traditional publisher just this year.
From Antoinette D’Addario, a digital marketing specialist:
I double majored in journalism and law and society – criminology at American University. I think being a double major has helped me in my professional life because it taught me how to write for different audiences, which is something I do on a daily basis at my current job. My criminology classes often asked us to argue for solutions to a specific problem, and I think looking for unique solutions to those problems has made me skilled at finding unique solutions to problems that our clients are facing and finding ways to work around them.
I was a double major in college (Duke University, Class of 2001, political science & French). I found the double major experience very worthwhile because it gave me the opportunity to study under two very different sets of professors. It was also very valuable to me during my study abroad experiences where I studied in Paris, France and right after undergrad as a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco. In both programs, I studied political science in French-speaking countries.
I’m currently president of my own communications firm in Washington, DC, where most of our clients are government/think tank entities, including foreign governments in French-speaking countries such as Morocco, Burkina Faso & Togo.
From Kerry Graham, an English teacher:
The primary reason I double majored in college (I graduated with degrees in English and psychology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in May 2005) is because I couldn’t pick just one, so I figured it made sense to do both.
I enjoyed my experiences as a double major: I felt like different parts of my personality and intellectual curiosity were satisfied by the different disciplines, and I enjoyed getting to know such an array of professors. I also appreciated the feeling that, after graduation, I had a number of options available to me–especially because I had such a vague idea of what I wanted to do (the job criteria that was the most consistent over time was the ever-generic “I want to help people”).
From Charlie Brook, a professional content writer for HerMeOut:
I was a double major during my undergraduate degree at New York University. I graduated with a double major in acting (Tisch) and journalism (College of Arts and Science) in 2015.
The double major gave me the opportunity to care about two things and pour my energy into both. It was extremely demanding, and it’s possibly not for everyone. But I benefited from it. I’m glad that in a time when I was so confused about what I wanted, that I could have the opportunity to try out different things. It’s scary to imagine that I could have graduated with an acting degree with no way to leverage that into a different career.
Without my second degree, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. And while my content writing job isn’t journalism, I still get to do my own journalistic projects like my documentaries and other writing that I live for.
The last thing I will mention is that the school did not make it easy to do. As an acting major, they wanted all of my time, and they were not happy to see me giving a lot of it to journalism. In fact, after two and a half years of working toward my double major, the school almost made me forfeit it all in the last semester. I had to fight to get myself into a class, which I ended up taking out of order because no one informed me of the normal procedure, and get my counselor to approve my radical schedule.
Conclusion: The Guide to Double Majors
If you have two majors in mind that will benefit you in your future career, don’t be afraid to go for it.
Most students can fit a second major into their elective credits.
- With the proper planning, you won’t need to take extra classes or spend extra money.
- However, you do need to get started as soon as possible.
- Talk to your academic advisor for help, as planning for two majors can be complicated. Be efficient by taking the maximum number of overlapping courses.
Be prepared to work hard, study a lot, and make some sacrifices.
Remember that in the long run, your double major could lead to a more competitive resume, greater success in your future career, and a higher salary.