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Liz Lambson

A Note About Double Majoring: Is It Worth It?

August 24, 2013 at 2:48 AM

In response to my last post, "Decisions, Decisions: Should I Major in Music?", I had a reader contact me at Kennedy Violins interested in advice concerning the option to double major.

First, if you have interest in opportunities for dual degrees at specific schools such as Julliard, Eastman, Oberlin, or any other university of interest, I encourage you to speak with or e-mail directly a representative from the school such as an academic counselor.

From my personal experience though, I did try to double major and it didn't turn out to be an ideal experience. To finish both majors would have taken six years instead of four, so I ended up with my music degree and an English minor, finishing in five years instead.

In my opinion, double majoring is not ideal because you aren't able to fully immerse yourself in both studies. If you try, you'll likely be overwhelmed, over-committed, and stressed which may lead to an exhausting and negative academic experience. Not to mention that over-committing cuts into practice time and puts grades at risk. If a student does double major, sacrifices made in each area of focus can lead to incomplete focus in each major. Getting two degrees in one go can be done, but often with each major at the expense of the other.

Regardless of what you choose to study, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew!  (Photo by Ashnikov)
No matter what you decide, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew!
(Photo by Ashnikov)

A comment was made on this post reiterating the truth that just because you don't major in something (like theatre) doesn't mean you can't be involved in it or even go on to become a professional in that field. My sister is a great example--she studied photography and now works as a food photographer for a major network. But she's also very passionate about acting and musical theater. In addition to her day job as a staff photographer she has taken acting lessons and voice lessons from professional coaches, auditioned for musicals, and landed roles in off-Broadway productions--with pay. Way to be a pro in both fields!

So, in essence, my advice to those interested in double majoring would be to choose one thing to focus on for four (or however many) years and really, really get the most out of that focused education. Maybe minor in the other interest. But there is still plenty of time beyond that undergraduate education to pursue more education in other areas whether in a university setting or a private setting. I tried double majoring because I could, but it didn't add to my collegiate experience in the way I expected it would.

Good luck! I wish each of you great success in any and every endeavor you pursue!


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From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 24, 2013 at 2:59 PM
What a hilarious graphic! : )
From Kate Little
Posted on August 24, 2013 at 7:22 PM
Of course, if you are the kind of student who has a track record of perfect or very, very high school grades and standardized test scores, AND you are a high achiever with your instrument, say winning multiple regional and/or national competitions, AND you derive deep satisfaction from the type and amount of work that lead to this level of achievement, AND you are sincerely interested in another subject besides music, than BY ALL MEANS consider a double major. A student of more moderate abilities and achievement may well feel overwhelmed by a double major, as the OP suggests. What is most important is to know your own self well from the inside out, and to set your path accordingly.

Than again, if you have more moderate abilities and motivation, but still are committed to a double major, you can always seek out an institution which is not as demanding as others, and be successful in both majors at that school. There are many ways to reach a goal. Explore them all.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 24, 2013 at 10:55 PM
I'm so grateful I pursued both of my interests, music and journalism, in college. Though I did not do a double major, I took a great many classes journalism while I was getting my bachelor's degree in music, and I took violin lessons in the music school when I was getting my journalism masters degree. Studying two disciplines also gave me interesting perspectives on both!
From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on August 25, 2013 at 10:11 AM
I agree that double majoring is not for everyone but I find that it suits me very well. I am planning on having careers in both fields (biology and music) and a degree in each subject is vital. I can't imagine dropping either major...
From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 25, 2013 at 8:37 PM
As a parent, I would recommend double majoring for practical reasons. As a musician/music major, you probably can make some sort of living using your music degree. But, it may not be the one you want. What a double major does is give you the option to have another career with which to make a living. My profession, law, is replete with lawyers trained at Julliard and other music schools. One of my law school classmates in the mid-1970s was a concert pianist. I just got a new colleague who is a CIM graduate in viola and violin from a decade or so ago. He and I have fascinating discussions about music, and he has just started playing viola again after hiatus, so we discuss how he should approach getting back his skills and devoting some time to music. My son was interested in tv production and went to Northwestern. We urged him to choose a more traditional major in case he wanted/needed to go to business or law school at some point, and he doubled majored in Radio/TV/Film and Political Science. He has spent a number of years now in tv, but knows that if he wants to go back to school, he will also have a degree (with top grades) in a more traditional field. So, that is the practical case for double majoring from a parent's point of view. Have a traditional major in case you decide you need to put Plan B into operation.
From Liz Lambson
Posted on August 26, 2013 at 11:33 AM
Great comments, friends. Looking back, I'm glad I did the double-major thing, even though I didn't complete all the courses for the full English degree. I couldn't bring myself to do that sixth year of undergrad. Ha! But it was absolutely worth it to take those literature and composition classes. I probably wouldn't be blogging here had I not been educated as a writer.

I hear a lot of musicians saying they're glad they majored in another field for job security in the future. For those who prioritize the "other" field of study over music, there's another decision to be made. Is obtaining a music minor or private lessons outside a university setting enough, or is the double major the way to go?

I would say if you hope to gig for pay on the side or in addition to a day job in a separate field, the full music degree gained through a double major is probably the best preparation for a future as a professional player.

On that note, I always encourage young students to pursue education in preparation for future career goals. What you study and what you plan to do when you're done studying should be directly connected.

So on that note, the music degree is perfect preparation for professional performance opportunities. I believe college degrees prepare you to contribute to society in various, meaningful ways, so don't major in something you don't plan to utilize beyond your graduation day--it would be a sad waste of a good education. Choosing to double major will prepare you to contribute to your community as a well-rounded individual.

So you can't go wrong double majoring UNLESS you struggle to do well in both subjects, which compromises your future effectiveness as a pro in each field. I like the comment above about students who have a record of high academic achievement. Consistently high-achieving students are more likely to do well with a double major. Just be careful and know there are only so many hours in a day!

This is a great discussion. Thanks for the comments!

From marjory lange
Posted on August 26, 2013 at 1:19 PM
"I always encourage young students to pursue education in preparation for future career goals. What you study and what you plan to do when you're done studying should be directly connected."

That's good advice, but for many it turns out to be way too limited. As some of the earlier posts on this thread (not to mention on many other v-com threads) indicate, a large number of--very successful--people now have a career in an area very far from their original 'goal' or vision for their lives.

If you plan your education exclusively around what you "know" you want to do (at 18-22) you may have major difficulties later when your vision for your life changes. That's the principal reason so many (myself included) still advocate and endorse a general side to education--it prepares you better than early specialization can for a jump to whatever area looks better later.

From Liz Lambson
Posted on August 27, 2013 at 3:03 PM
Really good points, Marjory. So true. I definitely believe in a well-rounded education.

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