Gates: Students should not feel pressure to double major

Matt Gates, Columnist

Last week, I overheard a tour guide explaining the quarter system to a group of prospective students and their parents. She discussed the nonstop “midterms” that are often just tests, the oddly arranged breaks and the large number of students that pursue more than one major or minor. Like many Northwestern students, the tour guide believed that being able to take a larger number of varied courses allowed students to double major or pursue a minor, or even both, much more easily than at other schools.

If there is ever really truth in advertising, this is it. We all know a NU student who, when asked his or her major, responds, “Well, I’m double majoring in Journalism and Engineering with a minor in Latin while pursuing a Kellogg Certificate.” With so many students pursuing a double major, it can feel like a requirement. While the ease of double majoring at NU is beneficial to the student body, students should not feel pressured to double major if this does not align with their academic and professional goals.

Spending more time on one major rather than attempting to complete two may have academic benefits for a student. If a student focuses all of his or her time on a single subject, he or she may be able to take more courses within his or her department or additional related courses that go beyond and supplement the requirements for his or her major. Who is to say that every class a student takes needs to count toward a distribution requirement, major, minor or certificate? Students can take classes outside their areas of study in order to explore topics of interest, or can take classes that are useful to them but not related to their degree.

Moreover, extracurricular activities can be more valuable than a second major or a minor for building a resume for jobs or grad school as well as for building practical, social and leadership skills that are useful in life after college. For instance, medical schools look at “humanistic qualities” and evidence that the “decision to become a physician has been tested in reality,” according to the NU University Academic Advising Center. However, medical schools will accept students with any major, and a double major is not necessary. In this instance and in many others, a student’s time may be better spent on extracurricular pursuits than on additional coursework to get a second major or minor. Options like the Chicago Field Studies program provide an alternative way of earning the credits towards graduation, while going beyond one’s major to get work experience and practical skills.

Studying abroad is another great opportunity that students can more easily fit into their time in college if they pursue only one major. Although not the right choice for everyone, studying abroad can allow students to build language and cultural skills that are becoming increasingly valuable in the modern workforce.

Ultimately, it is usually not a student’s choice whether to double major that determines his or her future. It is a combination of everything a student gains from the college experience and how he or she uses it in life after college.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].