Should You Consider Multiple Majors or Minors?

By Victoria Robertson on June 20, 2018

It may seem like an easy, binary question: yes or no. However, as is often the case in life, that’s not exactly how this works.

For one thing, your major and/or minor depends on the path you’re taking in life, including your career, education and residency plans, not necessarily in that order. For another, multiple majors is an undertaking that will depend on your personal style of learning, as some could be hurt by the choice while others will gain.

So before you walk away thinking that was the least helpful/informative answer ever, let’s dive a little deeper into what exactly taking on multiple majors entails and whether or not it would be beneficial for you to consider.

First and foremost, yes, you should always consider doing more with your education. However, this isn’t to say you should commit to multiple majors.

Consider your life path. For many, an undergraduate degree is as far as you plan to go. In this case, your future most likely holds a career in which you will utilize your degree. In these cases, multiple majors may not be worth the time and effort that you would put in.

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For most, a college degree is a shiny item on a resume that sets you apart. In this way, multiple majors may help to set you apart even further. However, when asking interviewers what they’re looking at in terms of a candidate’s education, you’ll find that most are simply checking boxes rather than really delving into your educational career.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. For professions in which specializations are required, the more you’re able to differentiate yourself, the better off you are. But for those at a desk job in an office that simply requires a degree, multiple majors might help to get you in the door, but that’s about as far as they will take you.

So when considering your life path, look at your personal career goals. What is it that you want to do? For some, multiple majors open up more options, which is never a bad thing. For others, multiple majors are that differentiating mark on a resume that gets them the job above someone else. But still, for others, multiple majors does absolutely nothing for them.

Just as it is when you pick your undergraduate major, deciding whether or not to undertake multiple majors is a process, and one that you may not get right the first time around.

The next consideration you should undoubtedly have on your mind is your educational plans. Do you plan to continue on to graduate school, or are you graduating and never returning?

If you plan to move straight into a career, see my above recommendation. However, if you plan to continue into graduate school, things may change a bit.

As a personal example, upon entering my freshman year, I had an interest in a Pre-Law degree, which would mean I would continue on to law school. During my decision-process, I spoke with an advisor to figure out if a pre-law degree was the best means of getting into a good law school.

I was surprised to learn that a pre-law degree isn’t a bad idea, but that it was likely going to do me a disservice. The thing is, everyone applying to law school is coming in with a pre-law degree; it’s those that are outliers that will catch the admission counselor’s attention. In my case, I was told to use my writing background and choose a double-major in English and in Pre-Law, as they go hand-in-hand, but will strengthen my application as well as my knowledge and abilities in terms of the law school coursework I would have to complete in my master’s program and so on.

In the above scenario, my counselor notified me that I would be better off taking on a pre-law degree with several minors/concentrations, or a double major, than I would solely completing a pre-law degree. For others, a counselor may recommend switching majors entirely or let you know you’re on the exact, right path.

So what I’m saying is, this story will vary depending on your graduate aspirations, but the moral is the same: the more academic experience you’re able to list on your graduate application, the more you’re able to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other applicants with the same major as you.

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This brings me to my next point, which is your residency. No, I’m not talking about an internship for medical professionals (though you should definitely speak with a counselor if considering that path to determine whether or not multiple majors is the right choice for you), but I am talking about your home.

Many students attend colleges that are out of state. For others, they stay home and commute, or simply stay in-state to avoid hiked up rates for out-of-state students. However, you need to look ahead and consider whether or not you’re going to stay in the state you’re attending school in and, if not, what qualifications you will need for other states.

You should also look at the state you live in for guidance, as some states have different qualifications than others. For instance, if you would like to teach, some states will require different areas of experience than others. So not only do you need to have your career and educational goals in order, but you’ll also need to have a good idea (or at least a solid guess) as to where you’re going to be living for the first few years of your career.

This is often a topic that students don’t think about in full, as it doesn’t cross your mind until it’s too late. Yes, you may make some last minute changes and move states, at which point there isn’t much you can do. But what you can do is plan ahead as much as possible, pick out some potential states you would want to live in, and determine what the qualifications are in all of them. In cases such as these, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

This all brings me to my next point: just because you decide multiple majors will help you in the long run, does not mean you should commit to that path.

Yes, you heard me right. Let me explain why.

Let’s say you visit with your counselor day 1, and you know you want to go to law school. As mine told me, she tells you that you should consider double majoring in English and pre-law to separate yourself from the competition. She can see that your ACT scores are high in English and that you had good grades throughout high school, so she doesn’t see a problem with this recommendation.

However, you know that you’re homesick and will be visiting your family every other weekend. You also know that you tend to get overwhelmed easily and you are already planning on a full course load because you want to graduate early.

Granted, the above scenario is a bit exaggerated, but let’s look at it a little more closely. One, if you’re visiting home every other weekend, you aren’t going to have much time outside of the school week to get extra homework done, which means you could fall behind.

Two, if you’re easily overwhelmed, you may not want to add additional stress in accomplishing a second major, as it will essentially double the amount of work you need to do.

Three, if you’re already planning on taking a full course load, you won’t have time for another major. And, if you were able to adjust your schedule accordingly, you likely wouldn’t be able to graduate early unless you take summer courses every year.

In this scenario, you can see how quickly the added stress and work of multiple majors can impact your ability to do so. Again, every student is going to be different, so while one may have no problem with the extra work and stress, another may crack under the pressure and fall too far behind to catch up.

Now, let’s say that you speak with your counselor, you weigh the options and you commit to taking on multiple majors. From the outside, it looks like this is a good, academic choice that’s going to set you up for success in the long run. However, the assumption here is that you do well, which is something you don’t consider until you aren’t.

Let’s say that you commit to multiple majors and then realize you can’t keep up with the amount of work. There are several possible scenarios, including falling behind, losing sleep and other health repercussions, losing your good standing at the university, losing chances for references due to your performance in your classes, a plummeting GPA and, ultimately, failure.

Again, there are many steps that could occur in the case of multiple majors, but these are the ones you’ll want to strongly consider.

Perhaps you would have excelled as a single major student, but taking on multiple majors has set you so far behind you don’t think you will ever be able to catch back up. Or perhaps you’re able to drop your second major, but you’ve already taken the hit on your transcripts and GPA, which has set you behind now when it comes to applying to graduate school.

The important takeaway here is just because you’re told multiple majors will help you get ahead doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true. If you know you’re the type of person to become easily overwhelmed and you’re worried about keeping up with more than one major, it’s better to focus on your one major and consider picking up a minor down the road once you know you can definitely handle it.

Your counselor is there to help and provide you feedback and information to form an educated decision, but they don’t know your style of learning. Their information is in the packet they’re handed, which means that only you truly know what you’re capable of handling. So certainly seek out your counselor and use them to gain some information you wouldn’t have learned otherwise, but don’t take everything they say as the end all be all. Instead, listen to their input, provide your own concerns or reservations, and have an honest conversation with them and yourself about whether or not you’re able t handle the pressures and stresses of multiple majors.

It’s always a good thing to set yourself up for success, but not if there’s a larger possibility that you would set yourself back.

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So, to go back to the question originally posed in this article: yes, you should consider multiple majors or minors. However, make sure that you are strongly considering both sides of the coin.

Be smart and true to yourself; just because multiple majors sounds like a good idea and everyone tells it would look better on your master’s program application doesn’t mean you should commit.

So look at every side of the coin, consider whether or not you’re continuing on in your education, what your career objectives are, where you’re planning on living for the next few years and then take a hard look at the type of learner you are and whether or not you think you have the time/capacity to complete multiple majors.

If you make it through all those steps and decide multiple majors are right for you, then more power to you and good luck!

And for those that don’t think they can commit to such a high course load, don’t feel resigned or less than, because you aren’t. Dedicate your time and effort to the major you do have, build up your resume in other areas (such as internships or volunteer work) and don’t let anyone else stop you. Just because multiple majors could set you apart doesn’t mean that you should subject yourself to a high-stress environment that may or may not suit your professional needs.

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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