Most of my friends were pretty taken aback when, two weeks after declaring my second major, I advised a first-year against a similar course of action.
When I first came to Wellesley, I arrived with the notion that double-majoring distinguished the hard working, driven students from the idle ones. I thought that with my intended double major in international relations-political science and history, I was really going to make the most of my time at college.
Now, as a junior, I look back on my first-year opinion with chagrin and amusement. Spending time at a liberal arts institution has taught me that double majoring is not the best fit for many students who are considering it.
At the end of my first year, I realized that the approximately 23 classes it would take to complete both an international relations-political science degree and a history degree were more than I was willing to sacrifice, so I firmly abandoned the former and happily accepted my single-major status. However, at the end of my sophomore year, I entered into my second major, English, entirely of my own volition, although I knew that my combined mandatory history and English major requirements amounted to 19 units. While I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to explore every academic field I had wanted to, I knew that before every registration period, when I looked at the offerings on the course browser, the classes that I wanted to take most were in English and history. I realized that by the time I graduated, I would have completed a major in English whether I declared it or not. Even though it was my goal to explore fields like psychology and theater, they were always going fall through in favor of taking more English and history courses.
When I told my history major advisor that I was planning to double major, I was a little surprised when she assured me that it wasn’t necessary. Although she by no means discouraged me from choosing two majors, she did however, caution me against rushing into it without careful planning. In hindsight, I’m glad that she made me consider the impact of a double major because doing so helped me realize the potential downsides.
In a 2015 article on Wellesley’s Website, the college confirmed that about a quarter of Wellesley students double major, which is roughly twice the national average. This statistic isn’t surprising, considering that Wellesley is a liberal arts institution that allows and encourages students to explore more than one field.
However, double majoring ultimately prevents students from exploring many different disciplines. While I’m now very knowledgeable about both history and English, it won’t be possible for me to supplement that knowledge with anthropology, American studies or art history. In order to complete my majors, I had to pick and choose what I felt was most important to explore, and therefore, while my transcript displays depth, it lacks breadth.
Furthermore, a double major is not more impressive than a single major. As USATODAY College Opinions writer Erin Grattan phrased it, “It doesn’t make you cool or intense to double major. If you enjoy and feel you will benefit from two areas of study equally, consider majoring in one, and then just taking some of the courses in the other. What’s the difference, really? Being able to say you double majored? . . . Nobody cares.”
Grattan is certainly correct in her statement that employers generally won’t consider a double major an advantage. Yes, if someone is considering entering the field of bioinformatics, majoring in computer science and biology won’t hurt their chances, but someone who has majored in one and has background in the other could be equally eligible.
Another position that exemplifies this notion is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). It would certainly be helpful to major in education and Spanish, but someone who majors in Education and is fluent in Spanish would certainly be just as worthy of the job.
In a recent organization meeting, someone told me that she was double majoring in something “useful,” or STEM related, and then something that she really enjoyed in the humanities. She felt that this was the happy medium between societal and parental expectations and what she really wanted to pursue. Even ignoring the supposition that STEM is more useful, I find this argument to be incredibly sad and detrimental to one’s health. Although it is can be extremely challenging to disregard parental expectations, I think that majoring in something that you’re not passionate about, especially on top of another major, is a recipe for misery in your college years.
As a double major, I don’t think that double majoring is going to widen my career prospects. I don’t think it’s going to give me some sort of “secret edge.” I just have two specific areas of study that I really want to focus on. If students have many areas of study that they want to explore, or if they’re really only passionate about one subject, then double majoring might not necessarily be for them. I urge all students who are considering double majoring to really consider the consequences of doing so and to fully explore why exactly it is that they want to double major. If it’s just for the supposed competitive edge when it comes to job applications, it might not be necessary, and you will miss out on a host of other relevant and fascinating skills and departments when you confine yourself to two areas of study.