Burn Rate

The Case Against Double Majors

Maybe you came into NYU with some AP credit. Maybe you’re a little advanced in some area. Maybe you just pride yourself in being interdisciplinary. Whatever it is, you’ve decided to do a double major. Whether it’s the ultra-common CS/Math, Math/Econ, CS/DS, or perhaps something a little more out there, double majors are incredibly popular.

Indeed I’m a computer science/math major. And with that weighty wisdom that comes from traveling through both lands, I come with this hallowed advice:

Don’t do it

Do You Really Like Both?

A common theme I’ve noticed with double majors is that one major is the student’s primary major and the second one is more a glorified minor. A lot of CS/Math majors take on the math major because they notice that they can complete the CS one in a pretty short amount of time. Math is pretty close to computer science, and besides, it seems like a challenge, so why not?

Even if math is close to CS, that doesn’t mean you’ll like it. There’s a pretty large gap between Analysis and Operating Systems. I’ve explained in other posts that you shouldn’t do CS just because you like math. The converse is also true.

My guess is that people assume technical is technical. Like if you’re a good programmer, you can automatically be a good mathematician. And maybe? You’ll probably be a better mathematician than an Art History major. But what ultimately determines your abilities in math is whether or not you like it.

By all means, if you’re curious about learning more math, you should take more math classes. But don’t lock yourself into a double major because you might finish your primary major too soon.

Academic Participation Trophy

I talked about academic participation trophies with masters degrees; Some people seem to pursue more degrees out of an abstract need to get more accolades.

Maybe they think it’ll look good on a resume. Sure, but not any more than spending that extra time taking grad courses or doing extracurriculars.

Maybe they don’t know what to do after their major. A lot of people go into college without an idea of what they’re gonna do after. Which is fine! Part of college is figuring that out. But getting a double major isn’t the answer.

Looking Smart

I get it, a double major sounds really cool. When you have your Wikipedia page describing you as a billionaire tech genius philanthropist, you want it to say you double or triple majored while writing 5 academic papers a year and saving wildlife in Australia.

But in reality it kinda just means you jumped through two sets of hoops. You don’t need the actual stamp of a double major to demonstrate your brilliance and interdisciplinary skills.

Let’s face it. Who actually remembers what Elon Musk majored in?

Backup Plan

Some people do a double major because they or their parents are worried about the feasibility of their other major. And…that’s not always a bad idea. College is an expensive investment and there are risky majors. But as I’ve cautioned before, a half-assed major is a lot worse than earnest extracurriculars. If you took a few basic CS courses, started learning on your own and talked your way into a low level internship, then you’d be in a significantly better position then lackadaisically fulfilling a CS major.

Having a double major may also distract you from your primary major, which may in turn mess up your career opportunities.

Networking, internships and projects are the ultimate way to get job opportunities. If you’re in a major where you’re worried about your job prospects, a double major can certainly help you, but it won’t get you all the way.

Major Major Major Major

You might be reading this and saying “screw you, I do like both of my subjects!” Great! You still don’t have to double major. Majors often have really annoying requirements. You need to take a bunch of dumb classes like intro courses, lab sections, maybe a few more electives than you actually find interesting, etc. Suddenly your nice open schedule becomes a twisted knapsack problem where you’re trying to pack more courses than necessary while not overloading credits or your sanity.

I’ve seen this first hand. What ends up happening is that you spend more time fulfilling requirements versus actually studying what you want. I know that it took me until this semester to realize that no, I didn’t want to take Honors Analysis II. I had spent all this time trying to fit these requirements in when I should have just focused on doing what I liked.

What’s especially bad about double majors with a primary and a secondary major is that the secondary major tends to be harder for you, as you have less of a focus/interest in it. This means you end up spending more time on it. Eventually this secondary major is taking up 60-70 percent of your time and for what? A little ego boost and an extra few words on your degree? Not worth it.

If you genuinely have multiple interests, take courses that interest you and if you serendipitously end up with two majors, great! Otherwise don’t sweat it.

No Depth

An inevitable issue with double majors is the same inevitable issue with multitasking (or concurrency if you’re nerdy). You end up doing both tasks worse. You won’t be able to really delve into a subject if you have two sets of requirements to fulfill. Delving in this case could mean taking graduate classes, or independent studies or reading on your own.

I have friends who plan on going to grad school for one of their majors, but ended up spending way too much time working on their other major. Not worth it.

No Breadth

Of course depth isn’t always the goal. But double majors don’t give you much breadth either. Oh sure you get to explore two subjects. But you don’t get to participate in one of the great experiences of college: taking random classes. If you’re playing your twisted knapsack scheduling game, you can’t randomly decide to take a drawing class. You can’t decide to try out a cinema studies course. You can’t really explore.

Do It or Don’t

A lot of people who do double majors decide this before they’ve stepped into college. They come in as freshmen, proudly proclaiming they’re a Math/CS major. I know I did.

They start taking classes and maybe they don’t like every class but they tell themselves that they’re going to stick to their ambitions. And besides it’ll probably get better. I know I did.

Some realize at some point that this arbitrary goal they set 3 years ago may not have been worth it. They realize that they want to focus on one area. I know I did.

There’s definitely people who have benefited from double majors. But it’s a lot fewer than you’d expect. If you’re interested in two subjects, take some courses, do your best and then decide.

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