Graduate with a Double or Triple Major

Maybe you are interested in many subjects. Maybe you are a glutton for punishment. Maybe both? Probably.

Students with the academic drive and talent necessary to pursue more than one major are not common. When you consider the fact that barely a majority of students are capable of graduating with even one major, donning the cap and gown with two or more on the wall is an amazing accomplishment.

Before setting anything in stone, let’s cover all of your bases.

You need a plan.

How long is this going to take? Will you have enough money if it takes more than four years? Open up your word processor. At the top of the screen write down all of your important information. This includes but is not limited to your intended majors, current amount of financial aid, and expected graduation date. Leave blanks for anything you aren’t yet quite sure of. You will be using this file a lot, so you can come back to it later.

Next, take a look at your college’s course catalog. If you do not know your university’s website do a Google search for the college’s entire name. Once you get to its homepage search for “catalog”. Under “curricula” or something similar you will find your major alphabetically. Under your important information, paste all of the courses required for the major which interests you the most, or primary major. After doing this, open up the page listing the required courses for your secondary major.

This will take a bit of time, but it is worth it. Compare each individual class from the secondary major with the primary. You are looking for courses which overlap between the two disciplines. For each course you find which repeats itself, happily move onto the next one. Paste each course which your primary major does not have. Organize this in whatever way you see fit. Before doing anything else, save this and print it. You need this for the last step.

It is fun to create time-lines of our future, but you are better off leaving this to the “experts”. Whether through e-mail or telephone, schedule a meeting with an academic advisor at your intended university. As well as you feel you’d be able to plan your collegiate career, this person has knowledge which you do not. Some classes are only offered in the spring or every other year. Some courses have prerequisites which mean with your particular major combination it’d take 6 years to graduate without summer classes. Armed with a solid plan, you can make a good impression and get the information you need.

Some colleges are less forgiving than others.

This is not often because of the university staff, but rather protocol. If a college does not under any circumstances allow you to have more than one major, you are stuck unless you switch schools. On the contrary, other universities have extra majors built into the curriculum. A friend of mine attends Vanderbilt University and is pursuing Computer Science and Music Education at the same time. These are two very different majors and this would not be possible at most universities. If you feel that your intended or current college is somewhere in between, you may have to lay down the law. I had to send a letter to my governor in order to finally make my university accept my 4 major/3 degree program, but eventually it was allowed.

Pursue multiple majors only because of genuine interest.

Don’t do it just because you want to seem smart. If you aren’t genuinely interested, you’ll just end up dropping back to one. I often hear youngsters tossing around lofty ideas such as “Oh I’m considering a triple major in history, chemical engineering and psychology with a minor in music!” They do not really have any idea what they are considering whether they realize it or not. Obviously this does not apply to all precocious teens, but you must think carefully and be honest with yourself.

Before taking the plunge, just pick one major.

At many colleges this is mandatory. Some will not even consider your request for another major unless you have already completed the internal transfer requirements. The most stringent regulations require you to satisfy all of the obligations for both majors before being permitted to declare. You can always add more major(s) after your first semester.

Be prepared to wade through a swamp of red tape.

To be allowed to graduate with more than one major requires an infinite amount of patience. Numerous meetings, mundane forms, and tiresome rhetoric abound in this process. Even once you have already been approved the quagmire isn’t entirely drained. Instead of meeting with one academic advisor, you have to meet with 2 or more. With so many classes required to graduate, it often takes a lot of work to show that you have taken all of the required classes.

Don’t assume that you can get a Arts Degree (BA) and Science Degree (BS) in the same concentration.

The best example which comes to mind is your college’s history department. Colleges usually offer both a BA and a BS in history because some history students prefer to pursue the sciences and others prefer a foreign language. Even if only 5 or 6 more classes would be required to have all of the necessary credits for both the BA and the BS, universities tend to have a strict interdiction on the books which makes this not possible.

In general, each extra major requires a minimum of 30 extra credit hours of coursework.

This equates to about 10 extra classes of work. Single-major students take an entire year to finish 10 classes. You will have to add one or two extra classes for each semester if you want to graduate on time.

One final and often overlooked aspect of extra majors…

For those who have already earned a degree and wish to earn a second:

The procedure varies immensely from college to college, but search for a university which allows a waiver of most of the basic and general education requirements. It is in your best interest to get in touch with the department responsible for your intended major to get some further advice.

Best of luck, doublies. Feel free to send in thoughts of your own. Good ideas will be added and credit will be given.