3 Tips to Manage a Double Major

Careful planning can help students earn multiple degrees without multiplying their time in college.

Students pursuing a double major should ensure every course counts toward at least one degree, experts say.
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Taking on two college majors can mean more work for students – but may bring a greater reward.

"Employers love to hire double majors with degrees in liberal arts and business or engineering and marketing," says Janet Scarborough Civitelli, a career counselor in Houston who previously worked at the University of Houston.

Students who combine computer science and business majors develop both hard technical skills as well as soft skills such as communication – a winning combination in today's job market.

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Tackling multiple majors can have drawbacks, though.

Students need to juggle two sets of academic requirements and splitting their focus could result in lower grades in both areas, experts say. Adding on a second degree can also delay graduation, forcing students to invest more time and money in their education.

"Double majors are definitely a lot of work," says Erin Jordan, who graduated from Loyola University Chicago with degrees in psychology and advertising-public relations. Jordan, who now works in media relations, also completed a minor in photography.

"Hardly any of my credits overlapped, so I had to be extremely diligent about talking to advisers in two separate schools – the School of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences – to make sure I got all of the classes in," she says.

Help from advisers is key to successfully completing multiple degrees, says Elizabeth Terry, assistant director of the College of Liberal Arts advising center at Colorado State University.

Many of the students Terry works with successfully complete two or even three majors, and still graduate in four years, she says. But it doesn't happen by chance. These three tips can help students complete a double major, without doubling their time in college.

1. Start early: Degrees have prerequisites, and most students knock out those requirements in their first or second year. Adding a second major further down the line can often mean tacking on another semester or two.

"It becomes rather challenging to make it work if you wait too long and you've already completed a lot of credits that don't count toward one of the majors," says Civitelli, the career counselor.

An early start is especially important if the second major is a language, says Terry, from Colorado State.

"If you get three years into your education, you don't have enough time to focus enough on the language to start learning it," she says.

2. Map it out: All students should have a four-year plan, but for double majors, that road map is critical, says Terry.

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Students can manage their workload by plotting out which courses to take each semester, she says, adding that most of the multiple-major students she works with take an average of 15 credits per semester.

"If students plan it out, they're not doing any more than any other student," she says. "They're just taking more classes that are counting toward something."

Scheduling is especially important in the final year, when students may need to complete a thesis or major project, says Jordan.

"I also had to take two separate capstone classes, so I made sure to plan it out my senior year so they weren't at the same time and were during different semesters," she says.

3. Make every class count: All majors have general education courses and electives built in, and students should use those credits wisely.

"Make sure electives are not being wasted," says Stuart Mease, director of undergraduate career services at Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business.

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Classes within the same college – such as liberal arts – often overlap, so students majoring in international studies and history can kill two birds with one stone by taking a course such as Latin American history, says Terry, from Colorado State.

"You can often fit that second major into electives. Students don't realize that," she says. "Doing a double major, you really need to show them how to integrate."