A double major in college seems like a no brainer to many students today, who want to capture a competitive advantage in the work world.
Some academics, however, argue that a double major doesn’t necessarily provide that edge. Even worse, double majoring keeps many students from graduating on time.
The double major issue came up when I was talking to a professor at the University of California, San Diego, about why it’s taking so long for kids to get college degrees today.
At UCSD the four-year graduation rate is 56%. While that number is underwhelming, the national average for public universities is far worse — 28%. (You can find graduation rates for any school at College Results Online.)
The UCSD professor told me that the popularity of double majors is one significant reason why students at her institution — and I assume elsewhere — aren’t graduating on time. Underfunded state schools are struggling to usher students through with one major and adding an extra major gums up the system.
Double Major Advice
Here’s the professor’s suggestion for students who are contemplating double majoring: If graduating in four years is impossible or extremely difficult for double majors at a particular institution, students should consider focusing on one major and then spending the extra year or two getting a master’s degree.
The UCSD professor isn’t the academic who feels that double majors are overblown. During a visit to my son’s high school, the admission dean at Columbia University became animated when he told the teenagers that nobody is going to care whether they ended up getting a double major. Employers won’t care about a double major, he insisted. In fact, he told the students, even their spouses won’t care care about a double major.
A couple of years ago, The New York Times explored why students consider a double major. While the article clearly captured the belief of students that a double major is a way to separate them from the crowd of high achieving graduates, some academics call that conventional wisdom baloney.
A few years ago, Bowdoin College, which is a prestigious liberal arts college in Maine, got three professors together to discuss the pros and cons of a double major. Regardless of your intended college major, I’d suggest that you read the recap if you are considering a double major.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and an eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree.