Double the Trouble, Double the Payoff? 3 Grads Weigh in on Double Majors

double major
Two college students wait to be seated during the University of Tampa commencement ceremony at Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, May 6, 2017. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Completing college is no walk in the park.

Some students make juggling classes, clubs, a social life and the occasional part-time job look easy, but the endeavor of preparing for one’s future career is no small task.

So for those who decide to take on an extra academic load by selecting two majors instead of one, it seems only fitting there would be a significant return on the investment.

But that’s not always so.

A recent study published in the Journal of Benefits-Cost Analysis suggests double majoring does not have a big impact on salary and career, even though about one in five students choose to do so.

“We found some evidence that certain combinations of double majors confer advantages over a single major, but they weren’t overwhelming,” Joni Hersch, the paper’s co-author, told the The Wall Street Journal.

“For example, there is some support to the notion that being able to look at problems from different perspectives enhances creativity, as advocates of liberal arts suggest,” she said. “But students who combine liberal arts with a business or STEM [science, technology, engineering or math] major don’t earn more money than if they majored in business or STEM alone.”

Hersch also said double majoring did not affect job satisfaction and had a neutral-to-negative impact on job match — the extent to which graduates used their education on the job.

So why do students choose to double major? We asked three professionals what they got out of double majoring in college.

A GPA Boost

College students receive their bachelor’s degree during the University of Tampa commencement ceremony at Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, May 6, 2017. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

PJ Panganiban, a 27-year-old web developer for REI in Kent, Washington, majored in mathematics and religion at Rutgers University. He intended to minor in religion, but when he chose courses for junior year, he realized he only needed a few classes to upgrade his minor to a major.

Panganiban said choosing two majors did not tack on additional costs to his college investment, as he was still able to graduate in four years.

“I did not have to take any extra classes nor summer classes,” he said.

Having the additional major in religion helped boost his GPA, which was beneficial when dealing with challenging math courses.

“The upper-level math classes were the hardest classes I ever took, and I had barely passed some of them,” Panganiban said. “It was my religion classes that kept my grades up and allowed me to keep the required GPA for financial aid and to graduate.”

He said the experience double majoring was a positive one, even though he did not end up with a career in either field.

“I seriously considered continuing that path into teaching… but the thought of taking more classes [to get accredited] just after graduating was very unappealing,” Panganiban said. “It was when I explored new opportunities and got an internship that I decided to pursue a career in IT.

I think my math major helped me get some interviews, however, I think not having a computer science degree also made me a riskier hire. As a result, I had to take an unpaid internship for a few months to get some experience, and later, I think I took a lower salary compared to my colleagues.”

The Ability to Connect to Others

A college student waves to friends and family during the University of Tampa commencement ceremony at Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, May 6, 2017. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Rachel Bennett, a 28-year-old high school Spanish teacher in northern Texas, majored in Spanish and communication sciences and disorders at the University of Central Florida. A study-abroad trip to Spain the summer after her junior year — and realizing she only had to take five additional courses to complete a Spanish major — made her pursue the two majors instead of one.

Bennett said having two credentials not only benefited her career, but it also allowed her to make friends she wouldn’t have been able to communicate with had she not become fluent in Spanish.

“My personal life has been enriched by being able to advocate for Spanish speakers and their children,” she said. “I am able to forge bonds that would be impossible without being bilingual.”

Her communication sciences and disorders degree helps her further connect with students.

“I am… more empathetic with my students, as I am aware which factors contribute to normal language and speech development, and I can distinguish between disorders of language and speech,” she said.

Bennett said taking on two majors did not set her back financially. She did take four-and-a-half years to graduate but still stayed within the time constraints of her scholarship. Some semesters were jam-packed with 18 credits and sometimes stressful, but Bennett said she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Having majored in Spanish means I will never have to worry about employment,” she said. “The possibilities are endless — teacher, tutor, entrepreneur, bilingual executive, translator, interpreter, or bilingual customer service representative.

“Sometimes being bilingual is the deciding factor in the hiring process, and the ball is in my court, so to speak. If I decided to get my bilingual teaching certificate in Texas, the stipend offered to teachers is approximately $3,000 more than a typical salary.”

Bennett said had she earned a graduate degree to become a bilingual speech-language pathologist — rather than following her passion and becoming a teacher — she would have more likely received multiple job offers paying higher salaries than she has now.

That said, she loves teaching and has no plans to switch careers.

Similar Fields of Study

Sara Jones is a lawyer who graduated with dual majors in sociology and criminology from Florida State University. Courtesy of Sara Jones

Sara Jones, a 28-year-old lawyer from Lake Wales, Florida, graduated with dual majors in sociology and criminology from Florida State University. She chose to study sociology in her second year of college.

Just before her fourth year, she decided she wanted to go to law school and went for the criminology degree.

“I really enjoyed pursuing my dual major,” Jones said. “Because my majors were so similar, many of the classes overlapped.

She graduated in five years rather than four. Since the last year wasn’t covered by her scholarship, she took out loans (totaling less than $5,000) to supplement federal grant money.

Still, Jones said her experience double majoring was positive overall.

“I can’t say for sure that pursuing a double major alone directly resulted in my success, but it was definitely a part of a series of good career decisions that I made,” she said. “The education I received under both majors informs my work every day, and it has helped me to secure numerous internships and job opportunities.”

Your Turn: Did you double major in college?

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She only had one major in college — print journalism — but minored in economics.