By Rajkamal Rao
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This page is applicable to Undergraduate Students.
Getting a double major means that you're, in effect, getting two degrees - although you will get only one diploma (that of your home college). Your transcript, however, will show that you completed courses in both majors.
Suppose that your home major is Economics and you decide to major in Mathematics. Your diploma will say that you earned a BS degree in Economics. But your transcripts will show that you earned two majors - Economics and Math.
According to the Teagle Foundation, the following double major combinations are the most common:
Business and Business
Foreign Language and International Studies
Foreign Language and Political Science
Economics and Mathematics
Economics and Political Science
Foreign Language and Biology
Foreign Language and Economics
Foreign Language and Business
Economics and Engineering
Foreign Language and Psychology
Most schools require you to complete all course credits for both majors within the time you are enrolled in the college - about 4 years. Some colleges require you to complete a minimum number of distinct courses to qualify for a double major. It is certainly a lot more difficult to get a double major. Because of the course restrictions, you may have to declare your majors earlier, meaning that you will miss out on trying out new electives or areas.
Ultimately, though, it is all about the number of specific credits that you are required to complete. If you can knock off some preliminary courses when you are still in high school, it will give you more freedom to pursue a double major. For details about AP courses, please explore our Core Idea 1.
Some schools don't allow students to pursue a second major if a student is already enrolled in composite/joint degrees, which by design, combine two different fields. MIT, for example, offers composite degrees in Mathematics with Computer Science or Computer Science with Molecular Biology. In general, MIT says that students are expected to plan a double major program in advance and complete it in four or five years. MIT offers double major opportunities only to its top students - those who score at least a GPA of 4.0 or higher on a 5.0 GPA scale.
There is no definite advantage in getting a double major - meaning, you won't necessarily be preferred by employers nor will you automatically get a leg up when you try to attend graduate school. Still, the thinking is that if you can get two majors during the same 4 years for the price of one (and a bit more), and you can demonstrate your commitment, this is altogether helpful. Some researchers report that up to 25% of college students in the US are currently pursuing double majors.
Some colleges allow you to take courses at a partner institution to earn simultaneous degrees. For example, Carnegie Mellon University students can take medical courses at the University of Pittsburgh because these are not offered at CMU. Simultaneous degrees are posted on one transcript as two degrees, but two separate degree certificates are issued, one from each college.
Click here for more general information about double majors. Check with your target college or university for specific program information about Dual/Double Majors and Simultaneous Degrees.