The downside of the double major
There are a few things about Wash. U. that, even after three years here, I still don’t completely understand. I have no idea why the University chooses to have a convocation for me every single year when they could just send out all the important information I need yearly in a medium length e-mail, nor do I understand why the most convenient time for construction on the new MetroLink station always seems to be about 6 a.m. However, an article in last Monday’s Student Life reminded me of something else about the University that I still don’t get: double majors. For some reason, an unusually high percentage of students here choose to pick not just one, but two or maybe even three majors. Not only does this custom not add anything to the college experience, but it actually actively detracts from nearly any double major’s college experience. A double major limits your options during college much more than it creates possibilities elsewhere, despite the continued rush of University students to have multiple majors.
First of all, double majoring takes too much time. Most majors will require at least 30 credits; multiply by two, add in clusters and other prerequisites to graduate and a student who takes an average of 15 credits a semester has maybe a semester or two free-certainly no more-to take whatever classes he wants. The point of a liberal arts curriculum is to expose its participants to new ideas and interesting concepts, not to pigeon-hole them into a few select topics. Students who take on multiple majors claim that this increases the topics they’re exposed to, but it actually does quite the opposite, limiting the classes they can take and the ideas they can pursue.
Having one major to focus on also improves your potential experience within that major. At other schools, majors in certain departments really get to know both the subject and the professors in that department, adding an additional sense of academic community to the college experience, something that many students here seem to miss out on because they’re so busy moving from one department to another.
Furthermore, double majoring isn’t particularly useful. Nearly any job will either have a training program or require a graduate degree. Few employers would look at a double major’s skills and accept them as sufficient for a job; graduate school is virtually a prerequisite for most well-paying jobs these days, anyway. Also, if double majoring gives applicants such an edge, wouldn’t other schools have caught on to it by now? Picking just one major is good enough for students at every other school in the country, and while we’d like to think we’re that much smarter than everyone, chances are better that we’re all a bunch of overachievers with nothing better to do than load up on everything possible, including majors.
What seems to be most absurd about the majority of double majors at the University is that people don’t even seem to have a reason for doing it. Many just do it because others do, following peer pressure of the lamest kind. Who cares that your freshman roommate is double majoring in physics and dance or that your sophomore suitemate chooses to spend all of her time focusing on history and philosophy-neuroscience-psychology (does that count as a quadruple major?). This isn’t high school, so hopefully people should be able to resist both the compulsion to do as much as possible and the urge to do what everyone else is doing just because it seems to be the most popular option. There’s a sense of inadequacy that anyone who “only” has one major here will probably own up to having felt at least once, which is completely ridiculous. As a proud single major, I encourage those few of you out there who also “just” have one major to take pride in it, whatever it is, and remember there are at least a few other people at this school who agree that more isn’t necessarily better.
Matt is a senior in Arts & Sciences and a Forum editor.
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