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Should I Double Major?

We hear this question a lot. And then the follow-up question: What would make the best second major?

The answer is: maybe? (and then, “best” how?)

It helps to know why you’re thinking about a second major. Here are some good reasons:

  • “I took a few courses in [major] and really enjoyed them, so I want to explore this subject more deeply, but I also really like the major I have.”
  • “From studying [major #1], I’ve come to realize that answers to questions I’m curious about involve understanding more about [major #2].”
  • “I don’t really like [major #1] that much, but I’m so close to completing it that I might as well do that — but I have room in my schedule for a second major, so I’d like it to be [major #2], which I really like.
  • “I’m enjoying [major #1], but I really miss using the part of my brain that [major #2] requires.”

Completing the requirements for a major takes you deep into a particular discipline’s ways of thinking and the information it works with. If you enjoy thinking in those ways, and the work you do in that major challenges you to expand intellectually, then completing a major can be a valuable use of your time in college.

Here’s a less compelling reason to pick a second major:

  • “I’m not sure I can get a job with the major I have.”

The connection between major and career is much more tenuous than many people believe. Only 27% of people are working in a field directly related to their college major five years after graduation.

Employers don’t hire majors. They hire people with skills, and those skills are honed in a wide array of college majors. It’s a good thing, too! The landscape of work transforms all the time, and there are are many jobs out there that don’t obviously link to any specific college majors. A good college education will equip you with the skills to adapt to an ever-changing world and acquire new capacities to meet its new needs.

Postings for entry-level jobs will sometimes identify desirable majors for the position, but those are rarely definitive. Many include the phrase, “…or related major” — which often means that the employer is looking for a range of skills associated with those majors, not those majors themselves. An employer is unlikely to rule out a candidate with relevant experience, strong skills, or demonstrated interest in the field just because their major isn’t one that they happened to include in the ad.

There are surprisingly few majors that function as licensure or certification for a specific job. The exceptions are:

  • Actuarial science: while a BS is not, strictly speaking, required to become an actuary, the undergraduate curriculum of a strong actuarial science program prepares students to take the exams administered by the Society of Actuaries and Casual Actuarial Society that ARE required to become certified as an actuary.
  • Nursing: a four-year BSN (and passing the NYCLEX exam) is one path to becoming a Registered Nurse.
  • Education: undergraduate education programs offer a pathway to teaching licensure.
  • Accounting: a BS specifically in accounting is not required to become an accountant, but to become a CPA, one must have a four year degree and pass all four parts of the CPA exam. A strong accounting program prepares students to pass the exam.
  • (sort of) Psychology/sociology/social work: some health and mental health facilities prefer to hire graduates with degrees in these fields, because the paraprofessional services they provide can only be billed to Medicare if they are supplied by employees with those undergraduate majors.

Other kinds of licensure require a graduate degree, e.g. social work (MSW), library work (MSLIS), speech and hearing pathology (MS in SLP), law (JD).

Most careers do not require any kind of specific academic credential or certification. People get hired on the basis of their abilities, skills, experience, and interest. A major or minor in a particular field can help to signal your interest and ongoing commitment to a particular field — but so can an internship, student involvement, part-time jobs, and volunteering.The HPRC is here to help you figure out what kind of difference you want to make in the world and how to acquire the experience and connections that will help you do that.