Double Majoring: Worth the Effort or Waste of Time?

By Kacie Rioux
BU News Service

For many college students, the fear of finding a job after graduation begins during their freshman and sophomore years when they are trying to pick a major. A weak job market with limited employment options has some students looking to expand their marketability to employers by adopting a double major.

In Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences, nearly one-fourth of the undergraduates are pursuing another major or degree according to the Association of American Universities.

One student, Claire Young (CAS ’14), exemplifies this trend. She applied to the College of Arts and Sciences as a Political Science major and has since added another degree in Public Relations through the College of Communication and also declared a minor in American Sign Language through the School of Education. She cites the competitive job market as her primary motivation.

“I want to work in government public relations and the dual degree allows me to acquire the skills that will make me a good job candidate to potential employers,” she said. “And the ASL minor will help me stand out from other qualified candidates.”

Young is not alone. Many students are choosing to supplement liberal arts and humanities degrees with more practical science majors that their parents want them to pursue so that they will be employable.

Recently, it has become easier for students to pursue more than one degree in four years. Students are arriving on campus with credits from Advanced Placement courses that allow them to complete some courses of study more quickly. According to a study by Vanderbilt University’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, about 25 percent of students double major in fields that are complementary and have overlapping requirements.

Young also notes the economic advantage of earning three degrees in the span of four years.

“I feel like I don’t need to go to grad school to be employable now,” she said. “I’ve worked hard during my undergrad and I think employers will be impressed with the variety of skills I have, even without a master’s degree.”

However, it is questionable if having another major makes college graduates more employable.

The Vanderbilt study found that students who had at least one major in the Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) fields were likely to have higher post-graduate salaries. Students who double majored in two STEM fields had an average starting salary that was nearly $30,000 higher than students who double majored in two humanities disciplines.

The deciding factor appears to be  not how many degrees you have, but whether you major in one of the STEM disciplines.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce released a report in 2012 that showed the unemployment among college graduates varied depending on their major. Recent college graduates of the humanities and liberal arts had unemployment rates of 9.4 percent and earned $31,000 as a starting salary. Engineering graduates had an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent and were earning $55,000 in their first jobs.

Adding another major may be a good way to get the most out of your college tuition. Although it may not ensure post-graduate success, employers appreciate the critical thinking and communication skills that a humanities degree provides. Combined with a practical science degree that will make any parent smile, it seems that double majoring in the humanities and the sciences is a good way to achieve personal satisfaction and post-graduate success.

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