Invest in Interest: Are Dual Majors Worth It?


Often, students who double major must take summer courses, at about $825 per/credit, to graduate on time. (Sarah Howard / The Observer)
Often, students who double major must take summer courses, at about $825 per/credit, to graduate on time. (Sarah Howard / The Observer)

One of the most common debates about college is: a double major worth the money and course load? 

According to Joseph Desciak, assistant dean for freshmen, Fordham students who want to double major must declare one the primary and the other, secondary. “I am the type of person that would advise students all the time to not necessarily think about double majoring or even minoring, simply because of the core,” he said. “The core is so extensive,” he continued, “But if people have a specific interest that’s beyond what their primary major can give, then they should [take on a second major].”

The Fordham University undergraduate core curriculum requires classes from English, foreign language, theology, philosophy, fine arts, mathematics, history and science departments, as well as attributes like globalism, American pluralism, interdisciplinary capstone and others.

Desciak said, “Don’t forget, a student can take elective credits just for pure elective reasons.”

Professor Sarah Lockhart, associate chair of International Studies, agreed with Desciak’s sentiment. “It seems to me that Fordham students want to double major a lot and rack up as many majors and minors as possible,” she said. “As the International Studies director, it’s hard because it’s a big major, 13 classes, so my main message is always that the important thing is to complete a major, not half of two majors.”

Common sentiment among professors and deans is for students to just follow what peaks their minds. “I think of education more as where you take classes because you’re interested in taking them and you want to learn it, not just to check off a requirement box,” Lockhart said. “Just yesterday, I had to explain to a student that you can take a class that doesn’t fulfill any requirement, that that’s allowed. They’d never done that before.”

Jennifer Kaplan, FCLC ’18, said that her decision to double major in theatre with a concentration in directing, and communications and media studies was certain. “I grew up in theater, but was still a really academic kid, so getting a [second major] is really important to me so I can pursue some academic interests as well as theater,” she said.

She added that she has seen that a lot of students around her have multiple interests. “It seems like the minor or the double major tends to be what the student really wants, and the first major is more what the school, or your upbringing has led you to,” she said.

Professor Maureen A. Tilley, associate chair for undergraduate theology, said, “Double majoring allows you to highlight more on your resume. It gives you a better sense of what the whole field of humanistic education is about, and it makes you more flexible in the sense that you have learned the methods of two different areas of study.” 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of degrees awarded in the United States rose by 38 percent overall between 2001 and 2011. It is unclear how many of these are due to second majors or second degrees, but the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center  has found that in recent years, the rate of graduation among college-enrolled students has gone down. 

“It’s better to take fewer classes and fewer majors and do well and have a higher [grade point average] than to take five classes every semester or take summer classes and not do as well, burn out or overload,” Lockhart said. She continued, “Amongst liberal arts degrees, because [they are]  not a job training program … [employers] are not going to disqualify you because you didn’t have a particular major, but they will disqualify you for having poor grades and a bad GPA.”

Desciak said that there are some restrictions to double majors. “The hard rule is – and this is something that’s beyond even Fordham – the hard rule is that the student may take no more than five lectures – five three-credit or more courses per semester.” He explained that if a junior takes five classes for 20 credits, they must pay for the two additional credits past the cap of 18, which may come out to around $6,000 dollars. 

If a student can fit their second major’s courses into the eight-semester framework, there is no extra cost. According to the Fordham University Summer Session Web page, during summer 2014, the cost for courses at FCLC was $825 per credit, not including the cost of housing for those from out of town. For a double bedroom, this was $1,080 per summer session. That made a total of $4,380 to take a single four-credit class and live on campus, plus an extra $3,300 for an additional four-credit class. Only eight credits are allowed per summer session.

“I may actually have to take one or two summer classes to finish up,” Alexander Jahani, FCLC ’15, said. Jahani has been working on a double major in English and visual arts, after dropping an economics major. “I was sort of pushing myself into studying economics … Writing in general, storytelling, was my background growing up … so I decided to take it more seriously,” he explained.

“Now I’m really focused on my artwork … I’m looking at applying for different residencies, grants, fellowships and possibly going for an MFA,” he said, adding that he’d like to eventually use English to propel him toward a career in high-school education. “The majors go hand-in-hand, because what I would read about would influence what art I would make, and what art I would make would influence what I want to read about.”

Jahani admitted it has been a lot of work. “Most of my time outside of school is consumed by what I have to read or what I have to paint. In that way I made it harder for myself,” he added, “but I definitely enjoyed it and got a lot more out of it.”

“I spend a lot of time telling students to relax, and enjoy college and to study well but also be mindful of eating and socializing, believe it or not,” Desciak said.

“Go out, have a good time, enjoy New York City, sleep well, pray,” he advised. “I do a lot of that coaching in this role, and people try to add on too much to their plate … We’re a top ranked university, we’re not accepting dummies, we have smart people at Fordham, and so they’re capable of doing it,” he continued. “I worry that they’re not getting the whole academic experience.”