Double Trouble?

Perhaps the most dreaded question for students at the transition stage between high school and college is:

“What schools are you applying to?”

Most often the person asking is genuinely curious, but the question is also so loaded that it can have the effect of reducing your entire existence down to a college brand. As a result, we often counsel our students to pursue this process privately with their immediate family.

Just when our students think they’ve mastered the non-answer (oh, I’m looking at some liberal arts schools on the east coast) or the polite deflect (oh, I’m trying not to stress so I’m not talking about that too much) — they get the next most dreaded question:

“Fair enough, but what do you think you’ll major in?”

Naturally, for many high school seniors or college first years, there is no answer to this question because they simply do not know yet. There is much more to explore before making that decision.

According to a 2010 survey of college graduates, 20% of students will ultimately decide to double-major. This seems wise for those who might have broad interests or simply as a way to hedge a bet about career paths.

Perhaps counterintuitively then, the results from a recent study in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis tell us that double-majoring may have little ultimate benefit for career satisfaction or pay.

In a discussion with the Wall Street Journal, the study’s authors say they found no correlation between double majors and job satisfaction. Because many double majors may pick two diverge disciplines, say math and theater, they also find limited opportunity to combine both sets of skills in their ultimate career.

This is not to say that double majoring might not be the right fit for students, but the authors warn that it could restrict access to other electives of interest (in the pursuit of hitting all the courses required by each major) and thus reduce rather than increase satisfaction at college.

The one path where double majors did seem to pay off, earningswise? A STEM field and business.

Entrepreneurs rejoice!