BY GWYNETH SPINCKEN ’21
We’ve all been there — friendly smiles across the dining room table, looks of mild interest, curiosity and maybe a touch of skepticism.
“Political science major? What are you going to do with that?”
It’s reasonable to worry about the implications of degree inflation, the rise in the number of people entering the workforce with college degrees, causing their perceived value to sharply decline. To some, double majoring may seem like a practical solution to the problem. With two degrees, college graduates ostensibly gain an edge on those with single majors. Their course load appears more rigorous, and they bring a second area of expertise to a position that may combine two disciplines.
This pragmatic attitude seems a necessity when millennials and younger generations account for such a large portion of the underemployed population, according to the The Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, double majoring ultimately undermines the intended value of a liberal arts education because it ends up weakening a student’s potential skill set.
Liberal arts degrees should make room for academic experimentation in many different subjects. A student can’t supplement her degree with tangentially-related skills when she pigeonholes herself in only two departments.
Of course, double majoring can be a calculated career move. Some students, like Laura Adeniyi ’21, a double major in political science and economics, know how to use their majors to their advantage. “I think politics and economics go hand in hand, so I think it’s pretty important to understand economics to do well in politics and policy,” said Adeniyi. “I’m also interested in economics. It’s something you can apply to any policy work. I think econ makes you more desirable. It gives you an edge that politics majors don’t have.”
However, some 18-year-olds may not understand the implications of the decision they are taking on. Some choose two programs that may have interested them in a high school with more limited courses than they find in college, and are then unable to explore new subjects that may have potentially interested them. They don’t realize the benefits of studying one subject in depth, supplementing their original passion with interdisciplinary study.
Some students also speak to the formidable amount of time a double major would require to spend on their academics rather than extracurricular pursuits.
“I think it could be beneficial for your future career, but it could also be stressful,” said Yasmin Abdullahi ’21. “[With a double major] you can’t really venture out by interning, working with a professor, or studying abroad. You can’t really venture out in your endeavors and opportunities,” said Abdullahi.
Double majoring is one of these awkward mixtures, an unwieldy solution that works well for some, but not for others. Students who double major can’t branch out, discover new interests or supplement their own major with interdisciplinary study when they pack their schedule with rigid requirements for a narrow field of two combined subjects. Shula Mathew ’22, a psychology major, agrees: “[Double majoring] would take time away from volunteering. It would be overwhelming and wouldn’t allow me to explore subjects outside my major,” she said.
With a single major allowing a more diverse class schedule, students are able to find connections to their original field of study, reinforcing and supplementing their understanding of that field. They can find connections to the interdisciplinary bridge that benefits both their passions and professional proficiencies.
Sometimes, the background a student builds during undergrad becomes irrelevant next to extracurriculars, study abroad opportunities and internships. Mount Holyoke English Professor Christopher Benfey speaks to this possibility: “In some ways I think it’s important what you major in, you discover a field in depth, but in other ways, life moves in mysterious ways, and what you end up doing in life is not linked to your major,” he said.
Double majoring undermines the purpose of a liberal arts education. When students have room to venture into other subjects during their college career, they can find new passions and learn things that will help them on their professional paths. Don’t find the connection between two fields — find the connection between many.