Is Getting a Double Major a Dumb Idea?

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A double major in college seems like a no brainer to many students today, who want to capture a competitive advantage in the work world.

Some academics, however, argue that a double major doesn’t necessarily provide that edge. Even worse, double majoring keeps many students from graduating on time.

The double major issue came up when I was talking to a professor at the University of California, San Diego, about why it’s taking so long for kids to get college degrees today.

At UCSD the four-year graduation rate is 56%. While that number is underwhelming, the national average for public universities is far worse — 28%. (You can find graduation rates for any school at College Results Online.)

The UCSD professor told me that the popularity of double majors is one significant reason why students at her institution — and I assume elsewhere — aren’t graduating on time. Underfunded state schools are struggling to usher students through with one major and adding an extra major gums up the system.

Double Major Advice

Here’s the professor’s suggestion for students who are contemplating double majoring: If graduating in four years is impossible or extremely difficult for double majors at a particular institution, students should consider focusing on one major and then spending the extra year or two getting a master’s degree.

The UCSD professor isn’t the academic who feels that double majors are overblown. During  a visit to my son’s high school, the admission dean at Columbia University became animated when he told the teenagers that nobody is going to care whether they ended up getting a double major. Employers won’t care about a double major, he insisted. In fact, he told the students, even their spouses won’t care care about a double major.

A couple of  years ago, The New York Times explored why students consider a double major. While the article clearly captured the belief of students that a double major is a way to separate them from the crowd of high achieving graduates, some academics call that conventional wisdom baloney.

A few years ago, Bowdoin College, which is a prestigious liberal arts college in Maine, got three professors together to discuss the pros and cons of a double major. Regardless of your intended college major,  I’d suggest that you read the recap if you are considering a double major.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and an eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree.

Read more:

The Double Major Bind

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4 Responses to “Is Getting a Double Major a Dumb Idea?”

  1. Enjoyed your summary. Double majoring doesn’t sound like it gives students an edge financially or professionally from your post. What ever happened to minors?

  2. Lynn says:

    Hi Theresa,

    Good question!

    Maybe colleges should be encouraging students to rediscover minors! My daughter was going to double major, but her senior year would have been an academic nightmare. She was relieved when I told her that no one cares about double majors. She’s going to graduate as a Spanish major rather than Spanish and business majors.

  3. Alex says:

    I recently graduated from Binghamton University with a double major in Math and Economics.

    It was not too taxing to graduate in four year for two reasons. (1) The summer before my junior year I took two summer courses. This made my junior and senior year very enjoyable – the perfect amount of challenging. (2) I made sure to take care of the “general education” classes early on while I was still deciding my major. Then, when I decided to actively pursue math and economics my third semester, I only had a few GenEd classes left to finish.

    I even took a few classes that proved pretty worthless in the big scheme of things (didn’t fulfill a GenEd requirement, and didn’t count toward my major) and still finished in four years.

    After graduation, I’m starting a website called College Tuna to help Binghamton University students to adjust to the transition from high school to college and graduate with the best possible experience.

  4. Lynn says:


    That’s a very impressive story you shared. I think most people — including myself — would never be able to handle a double major of economics and math. Good luck with your new website — College Tuna. What a great idea.

    Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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