Sunday, September 08, 2013

Multiple Majors?

I talk to students and advisees, and a surprising number of them seem to think that they should have more than one major and minor. 

I have one advisee who has an English major, a science major, and arts minor, and a second humanities minor.  There's not much overlap, so that's 120 credits without any other requirements (and there are others beyond majors/minors). 

Most of these students are worried about getting a job someday, and they're trying to do that something extra that will help them feel like they're going to succeed and it will all be okay.  I'm sympathetic to that.  It's terrifying to look at our economy and think about looking for work.

On the other hand, I'm just not at all sure that an extra major or minor convinces employers that this applicant is the one.

Has anyone seen evidence that having multiple majors/minors helps job seekers?

There are also those who do a major in something they don't really like, but think will land them a job, and another major in something they really like, but don't think will land them a job.  I worry about these folks.  First, if you don't like it, will you like your job enough to make it worth while getting up in the morning?  And second, if you really like, say, creative writing, do you have to declare a major in it, or could you just take some classes and enjoy those?

The Fort folks are worried about the time to degree for our students (we have a very low 4 year graduation rate, and a reasonably respectable 6 year graduation rate).  So would it make sense to limit students to one major and one minor?  Or maybe one major and two minors?  (They won't do that because it's much easier to beat up faculty about the graduation rates than to tell a student "no" to anything.)

What can public universities do to help their graduation rates?  Legislatures care about the graduation rates, so we have to care, but should we try to convince them otherwise?  Or are they right to care?

(Given that our students take out loans and often work a lot of hours, an extra year in school costs them a lot in the long run, even if it doesn't seem like a lot up front.)


  1. That's a hard one to test since the people who do multiple majors/minors are different than the ones that don't. There is some limited evidence that 4-year major isn't that important to careers in the long run (careers like engineering aside), controlling for say, SAT score.

    Both my undergrad and my grad limited the number of majors a person could have to two.

    My double major helped me get into graduate school-- my grad school seems to only take SLAC students if they also majored/minored in math or physics in addition to econ (or, in theory, have a masters or significant work experience). My guess is that's because most SLACs don't have separate business departments so the econ major is more business than economics. That is unlikely to be a big concern for the vast majority of students though, even at SLACs.

    Some schools have common double majors that make sense, like Spanish + business. I would assume that would help with targeted job hunting.

    My husband was one class away from a minor in CS (in addition to engineering double majors) and decided not to do it because in theory you don't need a CS degree to do programming.

  2. Yes, most of our Spanish students are double majors. It makes sense. Ironically, the one student I can think who only majored in Spanish was the one who got the job most business + Spanish double majors dream of: at a big corporation, and advancing fast (their are paying for his MBA right now)

  3. I am always surprised to hear students taking multiple majors & minors. Last week I had a student who came in, disappointed that she'd been counseled against taking a second major. In my ideal world, a student wouldn't even need a minor - a solid major and a wide exposure to other things would be more valuable in a life-meaning sense.

    Most students who've mentioned the job worry to me are rarely concerned with how they'll like their job; having one that makes them lots of money seems the more meaningful to them. I was the complete opposite: I had jobs and little difficulty in getting them. But they were rarely satisfying and I didn't really define myself by my job. The more education I got, the more concerned I was about how I felt about my job and about myself. And, horrifyingly enough, the harder it got to get any job at all. I am now nearly reconciled to the fact that my students are so different from me that my own life experiences have little relevance to them. So I listen hard, and try to advise them to learn to learn, and that that will serve them better. As somebody noted several years ago, by the time this generation is 38, they'll have changed careers 5 times. And that most of the things they'll be doing haven't been invented yet.

  4. Our university recently instituted majors (from a concentration/specialist system). So now, if you opt for a major, you have to do TWO majors or a major and TWO minors. As you say, there can be not so much overlap, there, especially if you're in different divisions so that even the first-year breadth requirements are different!

  5. richard5:49 AM

    I deal with a lot of double or triple majors in my department, East Asian Studies, usually combining international business and/or an Asian language-literature or history. But sometimes the other major is farther afield, like nursing, engineering, or tesol. I think in the near term from graduation a multiple major is a plus for our students, since an area studies major is interdisciplinary, so it demonstrates something different from a disciplinary major. In the long run, I'm not sure the details of an undergraduate degree make much difference to employers.