It’s Major Declaration Season!!
To recap for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kelsey, a senior, double majoring in English and Linguistics. A couple months ago, I answered a question on the Sophomore Forum about double majoring. You can read that discussion here.
Double majoring really worked for me, and I’m so glad that I’ll (hopefully!) graduate this spring, having experienced both disciplines, written both theses, and worked deeply with two different departments in two very different but related academic areas.
Although I had originally planned them to be the same essay when I applied to be a double major, I’m actually working on two theses, both on related topics. I’ve been studying Quenya, the invented Elvish literary language that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his realm of Middle-earth (NERD ALERT). Because the language was written into the book, I’ve been able to look at one topic from both a linguistic and a literary perspective, which has been especially important, as Tolkien himself was a linguist and a writer.
That’s one of the main reasons I decided to double major: my interests lie at the intersection of English and linguistics, and I found them to be easily combinable. My English knowledge makes me a stronger linguist, and vice versa, and I wanted to write a thesis in both.
But that’s not true for everyone – in reality, most students at Haverford will be single major students. And that’s not because double majors are better students; double majoring is first and foremost about being lucky (to have an interest in pursuing majors in departments that are willing to coordinate), and about being a master at scheduling. For two departments that have a lot of individual major requirements, it’s not always a good idea to keep pursuing both at the major level, especially if both have theses and you can’t combine into one joint topic (or you’re not interested in the intersection of those disciplines). The difference between a major and a minor in the Linguistics major is essentially just the thesis, and English doesn’t have a minor available, and I wanted that final capstone project experience for both departments. But it doesn’t always have to be that way for everyone, and minors and concentrations often allow for that kind of work even without the other requirements of a major.
So to help you decide what works best for you, I’ve compiled a list of a few things that I’ve realized, as a senior double major, both good and bad.
1. Illustrates Work Ethic
Being a double major makes you sound like you’re doing something impressive. That can be good, if you’re going to graduate school in one or both of your disciplines, or if you are applying for jobs. It doesn’t give you a free leg up, per se, but it can help to better define you/your passions to admissions committees or hiring managers.
2. Really Incredible Topics
I love my topic. Hands down, it’s something I’m most excited about discussing, and there’s a wealth of material in both disciplines on what I’m studying. Because I was able to tailor my theses to one single topic (actually, one single poem within Tolkien’s books), I could approach one topic through two different lenses. Who doesn’t want to be able to say that in an interview?
I highly recommend, if you’re considering a double major, to think about what your theses would look like. I’ve been planning for mine since late my sophomore year, and I think it’s turned out the way I wanted to, because of this.
I’m pretty happy with my major these days, even though it’s been a lot of work, and I’m excited to see my final product(s). But although it worked out well for me, double majoring isn’t always something that works for people– and that has nothing to do with intelligence or work ethic. All Haverford students are smart, and as Dean Watter and others have written on this blog, no one can choose your major but you. There’s no shame in choosing one major over two: there are benefits and drawbacks to both choices, and it’s sometimes just not practical or beneficial to choose two majors when one suffices. Here are just a few of some of the drawbacks I’ve experienced:
1. Fixed Schedule
In order to successfully double-major, you’ll need to start planning early. I entered college thinking that Linguistics and English were my two focuses, and I was expecting to narrow my decision once I had taken enough classes. But by the end of freshman year, I had learned I could manage both, and therefore I had to line up a schedule of classes I had to take to continue in both majors, and I had to ally myself with professors in both disciplines who I trusted and who believed in me. I’m lucky in that Linguistics is particularly willing to work with double majors, and that I could receive credit for both majors when I studied abroad, but some departments do prefer students to choose just one, so that deeper study of the ins and outs of the discipline is possible. I know I had to limit the amount of English and Linguistics courses I could take, so I could fit both into my schedule. I also had to limit courses I took in disciplines outside my majors. When you’re focusing on two departments instead of one, and both have a lot of classes, you’re spending all your time, sometimes full semesters, doing nothing but taking those two classes. That makes finishing interdisciplinary requirements difficult, especially if you’re like me, and both your majors are categorized as humanities.
I also had to submit a proposal of my thesis topic at the end of my junior year to both departments, in order to get approval to do a joint project. Because single majors in English and Linguistics get the whole summer to decide on their project, they have more time to choose, and potentially the chance to figure out a project that excites them the most. That’s not to say I don’t love my topic (who doesn’t love Tolkien??), but some people want the summer to work on their ideas, instead of deciding and committing while still in classes. Double majors must be willing to plan out well ahead of time, and to be unwavering in completing their goals.
Here’s also a great link to an article I found at the beginning of this past schoolyear that sums up how double majors have to work differently than single majors:
2. Thesis (And Two Senior Seminars)
For most seniors at Haverford, writing a thesis means you’re participating in Senior Seminar, with your advisor. For double majors, you’ll likely be completing two senior seminars. That’s a lot of work for senior year, and if you have two senior seminars, you’ll have to consider how much you want to be involved in extracurriculars (or see your friends) during your final year at school. Although I was lucky in that English is full-year and Linguistics is just one-semester, I was doing a lot of work every weekend on thesis and to stay current in other classes, which meant I hung out with my friends a lot less this year than I might have otherwise. Losing out on “friend time” in my last year of college got old quickly.
3. Jumping Through (A Lot Of) Hoops
If you check out the requirements on the Haverford major declaration page, it states that to double major, you have to maintain a cumulative 3.5 GPA – not just a GPA in those two disciplines so far. Grades aren’t everything, but having to make sure you’re always above a 3.5 can give you a lot of heartburn when you’re signing up for classes, or when you’re having a bad semester. Single majors can more easily choose classes they’re interested in but that are not GPA-boosting.
There’s also not always a ton of support for double majors; we’re a small club, and sometimes I feel singled out, as I’m part of both departments, but not fully a part of either one – I can’t be, when I’m constantly doing work for the other major. I’ve had to take a lot of initiative to connect with professors who understand both disciplines, too. Finding the right advisors is critical in any major selection (and Haverford has so many great ones!), but finding the advisors who know about both your departments and who will support you in your thesising endeavors (or who will be honest with you about it if they don’t like what you suggest) can be tricky. Majoring across schools is another animal altogether; it can be done, but make sure you read everything and connect to the right allies in your departments and among the administration (Deans! The OAR!).
When it comes down to it, successfully double majoring is a feat that involves preparation, timing, luck, and really fantastic partnerships with multiple disciplines. It worked for me, and it can work for you, but it doesn’t have to – don’t force it if your departments can’t mix, or two theses can’t practically be done. Even though two majors can demonstrate a breadth of study, and sometimes students can better use their skills to produce a project that works for them, single-majoring gives you the option to take classes in more disciplines, and to do more out-of-class work. You can take your thesis in a number of directions without the need to double major; minors and concentrations are also fantastic and can appear on your résumé if you want.
If you’re considering a double major, remember that you’re not stuck in both forever if it’s not right for you: you can always declare your major in both departments now and choose one once you’ve had more time to figure out the intensity of your future semesters. (Also, if you’re interested in how demanding the major is, your best bet is to do your research, and then to talk to current majors! Most of us are really nice; I promise.)
Your major is your decision, and you don’t have to remain in that discipline for life unless you want to be. Pick the major or majors that make you feel happy and challenged, and enjoy the ride!
For more discussion on major selection, please visit our Choosing a Major page.
The DEADLINE to declare is this FRIDAY, 4/18/2014.