The double major myth, debunked

Double majoring not correlated with higher pay or satisfaction

In 2010, the National Survey of College Graduates reported that roughly 20% of students graduated with two majors. Clearly students perceive an advantage to taking on two courses of study.

But according to a recent study published in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, it could be time to ditch the perception that double majors have a leg up in the job market.

The study's authors, Alison Del Rossi and Joni Hersch, sat down with the Wall Street Journal's Lisa Ward to discuss their findings.

Double majors don't make more money

Although students who major in one STEM or business field and one liberal arts field may be slightly more creative, the authors say, these students don't wind up with salaries any higher than if they majored just in business or STEM.

"Generally the highest paying majors are within STEM fields or include STEM as one of the majors," Del Rossi says. "But the combination of liberal arts and STEM fields don't have higher estimated returns than for single STEM or double-STEM majors."

The authors add that for men, there is one exception. Majoring in both STEM and business can result in a slightly more lucrative career, since "the added business degree creates a mark of distinction." For women, this is not the case, perhaps because so few women major in STEM fields to begin with. "Their major already distinguishes them," the authors say.

Job satisfaction doesn't improve

The study found no correlation between job satisfaction and double-majoring. The authors zeroed in on job match, too, which refers to the amount that students actually use their education within their jobs.

Job match, they found, actually had a negative correlation with double-majoring. They posit that students who major in two different fields would be hard-pressed to find a job that requires both skills simultaneously.

"It makes sense," explains Del Rossi. "If students major in math and theater they are unlikely to find a job that uses all of those skills."

Help students select the right major from the start

Double majors can be restrictive

What's more, the study found, is that pursuing two majors can actually result in something the authors call credentialization—students rack up so many requirements that they have little room left to pursue electives.

"Students have two majors, three minors, and work to earn a bunch of certificates, but all that interferes with the ability to explore different topics that interest them," Del Rossi explains.

There is no additional cost to double-majoring, since students generally take the same amount of time to graduate, say the study authors. However, they suggest that the drawbacks of credentialization suggest a double major could, ultimately, do more harm than good (Ward, Wall Street Journal, 2/13).

Another major myth debunked: Switching majors doesn't always hurt student progress

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