Should You Study a Double Major at a University in the U.S. in 2021?

With every subject and resource available at American colleges and universities, there is no end to what you can learn during your studies. 

If you want to be a typical student in the U. S. then you will go to college, get one degree, study one topic, aim for one career, learn a single set of skills, and complete your studies under a four-year schedule. These days, however, you don’t need to limit your educational experience in the U.S. 

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Rather than choosing one major, you can ‘double major’, following two-degree programs side-by-side, fulfilling requirements for two subjects that are often (but not always) related.

As an international student you might wonder: how is this possible? ‘It’s hard enough’, you’ll say, ‘to complete even one degree in four years without being overworked, let alone two degrees.’  These worries are solid and true. But, there are also ways to make it more manageable, we can assure you.

If you’re interested in undertaking a double major when you study in the U.S., here are some strategies that can help you successfully double your knowledge. You will learn how students manage to double major, and what this actually means for your study experience.

If you want to study a double major, decide early

At American colleges and universities, you will typically spend your first two years fulfilling General Education Requirements. During this time, you will be introduced to other courses outside of your major, taking one or two introductory courses in other fields that your university offers.

Since you’re only early stages of your degree, now is the time to keep an open mind about what to study and what direction to head for the next few years. Here are some examples of popular Bachelors in the U.S. that can get you started on deciding a double major:

You can select a second major as you are studying the first one

Let’s suppose you enrolled in college as a Psychology major, and you have a deep interest in studying human behavior. During your first year, you take an introductory Literature course - ‘Literature 101’ – as part of a general education requirement.

You study the novels of Hemingway or Dostoyevsky, and discover that their complex characters give a unique vision into the human mind. At this point, you’ve realized that studying literature adds to your passion for psychology. If you’re early in your Psychology degree, this is the time to decide whether you want to add Literature a second major.

You can enlist the help of your department’s advisor to help you take the right set of courses that can, perhaps, even satisfy both degree programs at once. This is because when you double major, the general education courses that you take for one degree overlap with the requirements for another. 

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A piece of advice. If you wait too long to decide, you will have a lot of trouble keeping your study duration to a minimum. If you’re in your third or fourth year of your Bachelor’s degree, you have already invested lots of your time and energy towards one degree.

Selecting a second major at this stage may force you to add an extra year of just to meet all of the necessary requirements. So, the earlier you decide on the double, the easier it will be for you in terms of time-management. 

Combine your courses for efficiency!

Your college degree programs are designed in a specific way to allow you to take extra courses, and not be strictly devoted to one subject or topic. If you choose the double major option, the best way to manage your schedule is to split your semesters evenly between the two degrees.

For example, if you’re a double major in Art History and Religious Studies, your next semester can include two Art History courses, and two Religious Studies courses.

Note that it isn’t always possible to split your terms this evenly; often you will have courses that require more time commitment and additional credit hours, or that some of your major ‘core’ classes have to be taken consecutively (back-to-back). But if you can do the split, go for it!

Don’t be afraid to take an extra year

Let's say you’re really keen on finishing a double major. Yet, even after following all of the previous strategies, you may find that as you look ahead to your last few semesters, you still will not have enough credits to finish a double major in four years. 

Fear not! It’s ok to take an extra year and it won’t affect your career. The four-year college is no longer the norm. Nowadays more and more students finish their majors later for various reasons (gap years, economic conditions) and there’s nothing top be ashamed of.

So, move past the pressure of completing your degree in four years! It is perfectly respectable to take an extra year to complete the final requirements of a second major. You’ve already completed four years – what’s there to lose by taking an extra semester?

However, we don't advise beyond one year into a sixth or, even, seventh year. After that much time, those extra years can be costly, especially because of limits on financial aid and scholarship

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Which majors mix best with each other?

If you like the thought of double-majoring, but you’re still torn about what to actually choose as an additional program, there are some basic ideas and considerations to keep in mind. One way to go would be to think of two fields that harmonise and work well with one another.

  • If you study Visual Arts, one obvious choice would be to study Art History, since you can understand techniques that artists have historically used and see how you can apply them in your own artwork.
  • If you want to study Business or Marketing, you may also study Economics to learn the theory behind the profits and growth that businesses want to achieve – knowledge that could be helpful in the long-run.

That being said, several students have taken challenging interdisciplinary work: students double major in Film and Biology, in Music Composition and Philosophy, in Physics and Medieval History – any unique combination you can imagine. Students can choose whichever two fields interest them, and they don’t necessarily have to be related.

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The main benefits of a double major

You may be asking ‘why should I bother to double major?’. It’s true that you don’t have to double major, and that you can find just one major that is perfectly suitable to your needs. However, if you do decide to double major, there are a few benefits:

  • Double major can equal double job prospects. You can have opportunities in more than one career path if you decide to have an additional degree and, in turn, an additional qualification.
  • Having a double major allows students to have a back-up plan. If one major is more artsy and you’re afraid following your passion will leave you broke, a double major in marketing might be your safety net for example.
  • Double-majoring can also open up a range of research opportunities. If you have ambitions of going into research or academia, having a wider scope of knowledge can offer you a lot of chances to combine research and different. 

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