Gutierrez: Why I am going to double major

Pallas Gutierrez, Op-Ed Contributor

In a column in the New York Times’s opinion section, David Leonhardt advised college students, “Do not double major.” I’m going to do it anyway.

Leonhardt’s main argument is that college students are prohibited from exploring many pathways by double majoring. He quotes Jacqueline Sanchez, a student at Wellesley College, who wrote, “Double majoring ultimately prevents students from exploring many different disciplines.”

At least at Northwestern, this is mathematically untrue. As a School of Communication student, I have to complete 42 units to graduate. Twelve of those are major requirements, and 18 are distribution requirements. That still leaves 12 units, which happens to be just enough to explore several other majors. Distribution or general education requirements at colleges exist to push students to explore new things. There’s nothing wrong with using 18 credits to try different fields of study and 24 to explore two deep passions.

Leonhardt and Sanchez’s glorification of exploring more than two disciplines seems to me at odds with the purpose of higher education. Grade school and high school were for general education; except for specialty schools, everyone (in theory) learns the same things and comes out ready to be an informed citizen. College is specifically designed for specialization. The whole reason students declare majors and apply to specific schools is to be able to study one thing in-depth for four years. With that in mind, the argument of double-major students being too specialized does not make much sense.

Resumé building and the “credentials arms race” are the reasons Leonhardt thinks college students are actually double majoring, and he dismisses them as unimportant, but he is incredibly misguided. In a competitive market, a double major can give someone a leg up on another candidate, but it can also provide insight from multiple perspectives; for example, an art history and linguistics double major might be able to see how language informed art, and how that art in turn informed language.

For most of my life, I have been encouraged not to major in theatre, as have many other college students pursuing arts degrees. So in my case, a double major becomes a second path, another opportunity for a career if things don’t work out the way I hope. Telling students not to double major could prevent many from pursuing something they love and push them toward something more “practical.”

In the end, it’s not Leonhardt’s opinion that matters, it’s mine. I’m going to use my double major to explore something I love almost as much as theatre — maybe history or literature or gender and sexuality studies. It’s my college experience, after all, and my credits to use how I want.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.