Bienen dual degree students balance workload, pursue interdisciplinary passions


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

Bienen and McCormick freshman Isaiah Adams said after his classes end for the day, he spends about four hours studying and another five practicing piano.

Samantha Powers, Assistant Campus Editor

Bienen School of Music students who pursue dual degrees with other schools at Northwestern say they draw on self-motivation to manage their heavy workloads.

Dual degree students typically take five years of coursework to graduate, and those on financial aid are eligible for a fifth year of aid in most programs, according to the University website. 

Bienen students often take multiple classes that count for partial credit, including aural skills and music theory courses. Some dual degree students said this workload, combined with their other academic requirements and extracurricular activities, can be overwhelming.

“It’s a balance between trying to be proficient at both and not favoring one over the other, because we’re obviously doing them both for a reason,” Bienen and McCormick freshman Isaiah Adams said. “We like to do both of them. It’s not like one is a side thing.”

Adams, who studies classical piano performance and mechanical engineering, is taking five credits this quarter. But those five credits translate to about 10 classes, he said, because of extra requirements like half-credit music courses and labs.

Adams dedicates time to both his majors in his day-to-day schedule. After his classes end for the day, he spends about four hours studying and another five practicing piano. He said he goes to bed at around 2 a.m. every night.

Bienen and Weinberg freshman Matthew Huang said he spends six hours a week in his music theory and aural skills classes, though the two courses amount to one credit. 

Despite this, Huang said he finds fulfillment in pursuing degrees in different fields because his interests balance each other out. His computer science degree ensures job stability, while his music degree helps offset exhaustion from his STEM classes, he said. 

“I was always kind of afraid that I was gonna burn out if I only did pure computer science or some sort of STEM degree,” Huang said.

Huang, who studies voice and opera and computer science, said he bonds with his fellow Bienen dual degree students over their shared motivation to pursue busy schedules.

“Because (Bienen) is a school that’s known for its dual degree program, a lot of us are very similar in that we want to do a lot of different things,” Huang said. 

He added many dual degree students have similar work ethics and mindsets. 

Adams said his motivation is purely “self-contained.” His dream job is to be a pianist who teaches and performs. He also hopes to carry on the “lineage of classical music” and share his work with others.

“I’m gonna go as hard as possible with my piano degree and see how far that takes me, but also have the mechanical engineering degree,” Adams said. “So if the piano part doesn’t work out, I have that academic strongness to fall back on.”

Bienen and Weinberg sophomore Emily Amesquita, who is studying voice and opera and English, said while music is her passion, she also wanted to pursue something more “practical.”

She hopes to continue studying music in graduate school.

“I have never found anything that I am as passionate about as voice,” Amesquita said. “If it were up to me, if we lived in a different world, I would be a singer, guaranteed, and I would be able to do that professionally.”

Still, she said she chose NU because she felt the school wouldn’t limit her from pursuing interdisciplinary studies.

Amesquita said while it’s practical to study something besides music, her mom encouraged her to pursue the art form and do what makes her happy.

“It feels almost irresponsible to be at an institution like Northwestern and not take advantage of the interdisciplinary options that are there for me as a student,” she said.

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Twitter: @sqpowers04 

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