July 21, 2010

Double Major : Possibly the Best of Both Worlds

Are you having a tough choice between "following your passion" or choosing a career that will actually pay your bills?   Well maybe you can have your cake and eat it two via a double major.  I just read a post from Trent at Simple Dollar talking about his college and career choices in which he says: "I could have double-majored in a way that allowed me to follow my dream and still follow a lucrative path, too, if the dream didn’t work out."   I think this is a great idea.  

If its not obvious what this means let me explain:  Say you have a "passion" for music but you realize that musicians are often relatively low paid and that paying the bills can be a challenge.   Instead of going to college and just getting a music degree why not get a double or dual major with music and another career option.   The second half of your major should be something that you know will have a higher likelihood of providing you a decent paying job.   You could combine your music with business, education, accounting, nursing or any number of other options.  

If you have a passion for something that is not very highly paid then simply find a second degree that is in a more lucrative field that you have a talent for and which appeals to you and combine the two in a dual/double degree.   The two halves of your degree could compliment one another or they may have little to do with each other.   A dual/double degree allows you to keep the door open to follow your passion while giving you a more lucrative and dependable career option as well.    You can also combine the two degrees to open the door to career options that utilize both skills.

I had a roommate in college who dual majored in music and engineering.  He had a gift for playing the violin but he was practical enough to know it would be hard to make a good living at it.   Getting the dual degree gave him a fall back option of working as an engineer but left the door open to a possible career  in music.   I actually think he did it to keep his parents happy yet still pursue his own interests.

But what about the Extra time and work?    Yes there is generally going to be extra time and effort involved in getting a dual/double major.   Getting a dual/double degree isn't going to take 2 times as long as getting a single major.   With some planning it shouldn't take more than a year or two extra.  First of all your general requirements should be similar so you don't have to take English 101 two times.   Its mainly just the courses in your major that will differ.   You should probably be able to get a dual/double degree in 5-6 years.   If you plan it out well and try to achieve the maximum amount of overlapping courses then you could squeeze it into 4.5-5 years.

Two degrees makes you more marketable in general.   When I show people my resume I have two degrees on it, one in engineering and the other in computer science.   Having both degrees gives me a leg up in the job market over people with only one degree.   Even if your two majors are quite different you can find an intersection where they will open more doors in different industries or jobs.   For example if you have a music degree and a computer science degree then you could work in a purely music area, purely programming area or you could combine them and work as the music director in a video game.


  1. Hm... I wonder if I did it wrong. I majored in math and economics. Both are about equally lucrative.

  2. Having a double major (or graduating early or getting a Master's Degree with a year or less of study, etc.) is a great strategy.

    Taking Advanced Placement courses (or International Baccalaureate courses, but I have no direct experience with that program) in high school and getting credit for them in college can really help facilitate the process of getting a double major. As with many things, it pays to plan ahead with your children to lay the groundwork for the pre-req classes in high school (and even in middle school!) that will help students be successful in AP classes. When presented correctly, AP classes are very demanding, and students have to buy in to the value of working hard, even in their senior year.

    Parents and students also need to check with college admissions folks to make sure you understand the criteria for accepting AP credit - there is a big variation among colleges about how many AP credits will be accepted, what AP exam score qualifies for credit, etc. Keep some basic paperwork about the AP class syllabus, some of the tests, etc., because it's not unheard of for a college to come back and say (upon filing graduation candidacy, ack!) that the AP class wasn't up to the college's quality standard or didn't match the syllabus for the college's corresponding class. Not to disrespect high school guidance counselors, but it's better to check this yourself - don't assume the HS counselor is up to date on every single college (how could he/she be?).

    Also, if your student can take classes at a nearby college for credit, that can also give him/her a big jump ahead and make a double major more accessible. It there's an even exchange on tuition, that would be fantastic. Usually, AP classes/exams are much less expensive and much more convenient to take, but not all high schools offer a wide variety of AP courses (and some high schools don't have any AP classes, sad to say).

    My hubs benefited from this approach over 30 years ago, so we knew what we were doing when it came time to formulate a plan for our kids' educational trajectory. All of them achieved a double major or got a minor, and that has definitely given them a boost in their careers.

  3. Lola, I agree about the value of AP classes. I took some myself when I was in high school and ended up with a full quarters worth of college credit from them. I wrote an article about that topic a while ago.


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