Information for the parents of college students
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Should My Student Choose a Double Major in College?

Many students have difficulty choosing a major in college.  Some of those students who have difficulty cannot decide on a single major in which they are interested.  Others may have difficulty narrowing their choices down to one major.  Those students with multiple interests may consider opting for a double major or dual major.  You may be wondering whether this is a good choice for your student.  The answer is, it depends.  As with so many other decisions surrounding college, there is no clear answer.  It is important that your student consider carefully her reasons for the double major option, and the implications of choosing this path.

Why is your student making the double major choice?

Students may opt for a double major for a number of reasons.  Not being able to make up your mind between two majors may not be a very good reason – but it might be.  Your student should ask himself why he can’t make up his mind.  Is he truly, equally interested in both?  Does he feel an obligation to major in one area, but a passion to major in another?  Do the two majors fit together or complement each other?  Would a major in one area and a minor in the other serve the same purpose or satisfy the same needs?  (A minor often involves half of the number of courses of a major.)  Is your student considering a double major because one major satisfies his head (intellect) and one satisfies his heart (passion)?  Is he making this choice because he is considering graduate school and wants multiple options?  Will the double major give your student a broader perspective and added flexibility?

There are no right or wrong reasons for making the decision to double major, but it is important that your student consider his reasons carefully.  Perhaps the only wrong decision is an unconsidered decision.  Opting for a double major involves hard work and determination.  If your student is unsure of his reasons, he may find it difficult to complete both majors successfully.

What will a double major involve?

The short answer to this question may be – almost twice the work.  Of course, this is a simplification.  A double major may not be exactly twice the work.  There may be overlap of some courses or requirements.  Other all-college requirements may be waived for a student with a double major.  These types of situations are very institution specific, and your student will want to be sure to gather all of her information before making a decision.

It is clear, however, that a double major will involve a lot of work, and probably careful coordination and time management.  Your student needs to be willing to take on the extra hard work involved.  It is possible that completing two majors may add extra time to your student’s college career.  It may involve summer classes or winter intercession classes.  She will need to consider carefully whether that extra time is worth it and whether it is financially feasible.  You and she may need to talk candidly about how much you, or she, can afford.

Undertaking two majors may involve some other sacrifices on your student’s part.  It is important that he consider the implications.  He may have less time for social activities or extracurricular activities. The extra time spent on academics may preclude your student from completing one or more internships.  He may have to forfeit leadership opportunities on campus, study abroad, or the possibility of working while in college. He will probably be able to take fewer elective courses. Of course, there are students who are able to complete a double major and still participate in internships, study abroad, and become campus leaders.  But your student will need to consider carefully how much he can successfully handle and what sacrifices may be involved.

How can my student make a decision?

As with most decisions which students need to make in college, the choice is a very personal one.  It is important that your student consider options carefully and then make his own decision.  Because of the extra work involved in a double major, and the potential sacrifices involved, he should be completely committed to the decision.  It is important that this be the student’s decision – not a parent’s, not a professor’s, not a friend’s.

One important factor in helping your student make a decision about a double major will be talking with his academic advisor about all of the requirements involved.  Your student should be clear from the outset what he will need to do and how that will happen.  What is the timeline?  How do the majors affect each other?  Will he be able to finish “on time”?

Your student might also talk to several professors in his chosen fields of study.  They may help him determine whether the double major is important.  They may help him consider what professionals in the field will be looking for in a college graduate, or what graduate schools will want to see on a transcript.

Your student might talk to other students who have similar double majors.  They will be able to tell him of the benefits and warn him of pitfalls.  If your student cannot find anyone else with a similar double major, he might consider why that is.  Is it realistic?  Is there a reason that no one else has this combination of majors?  Of course, there is no reason why your student cannot be a trailblazer, but he may need to consider even more carefully this double major.

Your student might take some time to participate in some informational interviews with people working in her chosen field.  What do they think about the double major?  Does it make sense to them, or do they have another perspective?  Your student may find differing opinions, and may or may not choose to heed advice, but she will have that much more understanding of the professional perspective on her double major decision.

A big decision

The choice to complete a double major may be an obvious and easy one for your student, or it may be an agonizingly difficult one.  It is important that your student think carefully about the advantages and disadvantages.  She should consider her reasons carefully and honestly.  As a parent, you should probe and ask helpful questions, but then recognize that the decision must belong to your student.  If she is making an informed decision – about her reasons, the pros and cons, the implications and sacrifices, and the potential benefits – then she may be ready to expand her horizons in two directions.

Related Posts:

The Path to Graduation: What’s Your Student’s Timeline?

When Should My College Student Choose a Major?

Will Your College Student Graduate on Time?

Exploring a Field of Study: Talking to a Faculty Member and Others

Reasons Why Your College Student Might Not Graduate in Four Years

When Your College Student Changes Majors

1 comment

1 brokeprofessionals { 02.22.11 at 11:36 pm }

I think I would recommend one really difficult major over the double major. If the double major forces you to stay beyond 4 years then I would not even consider it. My college was liberal arts so there were a lot of required courses so maybe that skews my view. Anyway, thanks for checking out my guest post over at problogger and commenting. I couldn’t comment there because I was blocked in the spam filter, ironically enough, but I figured I would come check out your site. Very cool site. That is cool that you can collaborate with your spouse as well.

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