Double Majors: Less Than the Sum of Their Parts?

A quick glance through any university calendar reveals an astonishing number of different undergraduate programs, including specializations, double majors and even multidisciplinary degrees.  If you have multiple interests and strengths, combining these in a single degree seems efficient. A double major, for example, implies two degrees for the price of one. But there are important consequences to such a choice.

 A double major requires you to take the core requirements for both degrees, leaving very little room for electives. And core requirements, while an adequate foundation on which to build, are generally not enough to establish expertise in a field. In effect, you can end up with a diluted version of both degrees.

Scheduling double majors is complicated. Course conflicts are common and an inherent lack of flexibility means coop is usually not even an option. Upper-level specialist courses that are prerequisites for most graduate programs may be impossible to acquire within a four-year time-frame. Finally, mid-way through third year, you will likely realize that you are more drawn to one of your majors than the other. Required courses in a subject that no longer interests you are a burden. They take up space in your timetable and can squeeze out more valuable electives.

Is there a way to pursue multiple interests within a single major without the dilution effect? Absolutely. If you are strategic in your choice of electives and, especially, if you are prepared to stretch your degree by an extra year, you can end up with what is effectively a second major or a solid minor. The difference with this approach is that you have more control and can adjust your elective choices according to where you feel the need for more breadth or depth. Unlike majors, minors do not have to be declared until right before you graduate. Single majors also more easily accommodate coop, which will further enhance your degree.

Choosing a university major is a big decision, but not deciding and trying to straddle the fence is actually more risky. A strong degree gives you options for graduate school, and a strategic choice of electives and relevant work experience through coop can give you real advantages going forward, including entry into interdisciplinary and emerging fields.


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