This story is a collaboration between the Eastern Progress and Eastern Standard, a weekly current affairs program on 88.9 WEKU. To hear the full segment, click here.
A typical way for college students to get ahead in the job market is by double majoring.
It’s a phenomenon that’s grown in recent years, with schools like Vanderbilt reporting more than 30 percent of students having more than one major.
At EKU, double majors account for about 6 percent of all enrolled students. That amount has fluctuated over recent years, but since 2009, it’s gone up 21 percent, according to the EKU Office of Institutional Research.
In October, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote a column, “Do Not Double Major,” in which he chastises this trend. He says students today are using multiple majors to get ahead in what he calls the “credentials arm race”; they’re overloading on classes and coursework instead of exploring one or two areas and finding what they’re really passionate about. On top of that, he says the trend exacerbates income inequality, making upper-middle-class students seem more qualified than working-class and poor students.
Katherine Davis, 21, is a junior double major in Spanish and deaf and hard of hearing education. For her, double majoring will help her work with deaf kids from diverse backgrounds.
“There’s a high percentage of children who are deaf that their parents either do not use ASL or that their parents’ first language is not English, so it’s very useful to be able to communicate with multiple students in multiple ways in order to ensure a holistic educational approach,” Davis said.
She also logs plenty of study hours throughout the week.
“Too many hours to count. I’ll be up until at least midnight doing homework most days and I also work 40 hours a week,” Davis said.
Carson Stanifer, 20, is a sophomore and majors in economics and political science. Like a lot of students, he thinks double majoring gives him a competitive edge.
He has thoughts about lobbying, being a lawyer and advocacy after graduation, but he’s still weighing his options. He also juggles a membership with the Alpha Psi Omega theatre fraternity, a student senator position with Student Government Association and presides over the College Democrats club.
I asked if it felt like his majors cut into other activities.
“Yes, but also no,” Stanifer said. “I believe that if you’re majoring in something you want to learn about it, and so it can be hard, but I don’t think it necessarily cuts into anything. I’ve planned it out so that I don’t have to take extra classes … so I would say no. I think that if you’re interested enough to major in it you should be fine.”
Before declaring both of his majors, Stanifer said he talked it out with his family and professors. He said everyone was supportive of it, minus one professor who thought he should stick with one major and add a couple of minors.
Paolo Capretti, director of the EKU Center for Career and Cooperative Education says double majoring is ideal if the student can pull it off.
“I think ideally we would encourage double majoring, in conjunction with internship and co-op,” Capretti said. “Not all the departments would make it doable because of their requirements. Some are very heavy on their requirements and there’s very little room. And that’s only something we can acknowledge; we cannot do much about it.”
He accreddits part of the trend to an increase in people getting degrees. There is a need to stand out, he said.
“If I receive … 75 applications for an opening, and they all have a degree [that’s] required, I’m gonna start looking for other things at that point to differentiate,” Capretti said.
Although Career and Co-Op deals with double-major students less often, Capretti doesn’t think double majoring hampers students, at least if they can handle it. He says students that do double major often show a lot of initiative and transferable skills, like leadership and critical thinking. Still, he says, students should ease into it.
“I would encourage it as long as the student has the shoulders to carry that burden,” Capretti said. When he’s counseled students who had strong interests in two areas, he said he “would encourage them to try taking a class in both subjects and see how it went” before encouraging them to double major.
There is evidence to suggest that double majors fare better after graduation. Statistics from The Conversation, an independent, not-for-profit news site, show that students who tack on a second major often do earn more.
For example: Liberal arts students who take on a second degree in a business major earned, on average, 7.9 percent more than their liberal arts peers with only one major. Students who take on a major in a STEM field earn around 9.5 percent more on average. The difference is most prominent in industries like management and sales.
That’s not to say all double majors are driven by the money factor. For students like Stanifer, taking on an extra major means more to fall back on.
“I think it really just depends on what you want to do with your life,” Stanifer said. “If you don’t know, I kind of encourage double majoring, because no matter what, you’re going to have two things to fall back on instead of one.”