Double Trouble: Senior Moments

Posted by Jake Dolgenos

"If you're like many Skidmore students, you'll graduate with a double major" explains the helpful "What's Special about Skidmore?" section of our slick, new redesigned website. And honestly, it feels like most students do double down on their Skidmore experience, picking up two majors and often a minor or two as well. Skidmore bills itself as a college catering to exactly this kind of behavior, with many students arriving each Fall having been promised the chance to combine two disciplines into an exciting and creative mixture. Ironically, however, the freedom to declare twice is often more limiting than liberating.

The necessary qualification: I will graduate in May with a single major. In this way, I can only speak to the experiences of Skidmore's many second-majored students from second-hand experience. I welcome other perspectives. But here are four reasons not to double major:

1) It will prevent you from taking electives.

Skidmore follows what has been described to me as the traditional liberal arts model of a cumulative coursework breakdown: one third of your classes will be in your major, one third of your classes will be fulfilling general education requirements, and the final third will be made up of electives - cool courses you take because of a professor or a subject (or a convenient time) of your own volition. If you tack on a second major...well, you do the math. Unless your two majors intersect enough to give you extra room, the number of classes you'll be able to take for the heck and/or fun of it will be pretty small. This is especially true for folks who don't come to college with a major in mind, having already devoted some of these credit hours to choosing a track.

2) It will limit your study abroad options.

I didn't study abroad. I had always wanted to study in Spain, but because I also planned to major in English, I had a few options: study in Spain (without any accredited English classes to take) and take 3 English classes every semester until I graduated, study somewhere else where accredited English classes were offered (and spend a good deal of my time abroad studying English) most of which are programs limited to London and Paris, or stay on campus for all four remaining semesters and spread out my requirements more evenly. It should be easy to see how trying to fit in two majors and a semester abroad in an exciting new environment can leave one with even fewer options. (maybe say something about what it is that you got to do in particular - cool classes, best extra curriculars?)

3) It will prevent you from pursuing extracurricular activities.

I have plenty of friends who are both double-majoring and also active in clubs, groups, and sports. I don't see them very often. Many of them have had to take summer classes, or find that their academic or extracurricular activities suffer. Either way, breadth of experience can come at the cost of lesser depth. Without the time to throw yourself into extracurriculars, your chance to become team captain or club president will undoubtedly decrease.

4) You miss the chance to fully devote yourself to a particular major.

Ask yourself: with two majors in mind, how many extra classes will you take in these subjects? Remember: major requirements are minimums, and don't necessarily equate to the full experience offered by an academic department. The English department, for example, offers an array of writing seminars and classes on literature and poetry of dozens of cultures and time periods. With the requirements of two majors, you may miss out on the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in one - audit an especially challenging course, approach a professor for help with your own particular interests, set yourself up for a chance at departmental honors, attend an academic conference, do an independent study in an area of special interest. It's not impossible to dive into two majors, but I bet those who commit fully to one get deeper.

There are reasons to double major  - the appeal is obvious. And I have friends who have never doubted for a second that it was the right choice. But our culture of double-or-nothing can pressure folks into limiting their experience, sometimes in ways, which will hurt them or prevent them from enjoying aspects of the college experience that they may have enjoyed otherwise. If you are pursuing a double major and the shoe fits, then shine on, you crazy diamond. This is a message for the folks who are quietly living out their college lives in a single academic department: that's okay. You'll be okay. Go be all you can be.

Jake Dolgenos is a member of the class of 2014, reads boats and rows books, and obviously wrote this to belittle the efforts of harder working students.

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