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I have read and heard conflicting opinions on this topic, and would like to see what some of you have to say, particularly related to CS.

Does earning two bachelor's degrees as an undergrad, considering all other things equal, provide any advantage over another applicant? That is, saying that this person earning two degrees is still able to participate in quality research throughout their undergraduate degree and is not slave to the curriculum.

Would, say, a MechE/CS student maintain a leg up applying to a CS program related to robotics? A Math/CS applying to theory-based CS? Does it vary between fields?

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Would, say, a MechE/CS student maintain a leg up applying to a CS program related to robotics? A Math/CS applying to theory-based CS? Does it vary between fields?

All else being equal, YES. Speaking specifically for theoretical computer science, I am much more likely to recommend a PhD applicant for admission if they have a strong mathematics background. A second major is not the more important thing, though; majors are just administrative hurdles. I look for which advanced math classes the applicant has taken, how the recommendation letters describe their mathematical ability/maturity, and how fluently they use mathematics in their research statement.

Yes, the effect varies significantly between fields. For example, my robotics colleagues are much more likely to recommend applicants with strong mathematics backgrounds, and my software engineering colleagues are much more likely to recommend applicants with software industry experience.

Of course, as Daniel points out, ceteris is never paribus.

  • Does breadth of study (in related fields) bode well? Or would you rather see someone focused on a single area they intend to pursue as a graduate? – HJM Jul 23 '13 at 18:17
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    Personally, I would rather see breadth and depth. – JeffE Jul 24 '13 at 4:33
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A double degree/major (or even a minor) makes it easier to see what areas a candidate is interested in. Understanding this, along with the relevant classes taken, can be useful in assessing the research potential of a student (which is really what PhD admissions committees are trying to do). Apart from making my job a little easier, the way I look at it is if I have two identical candidates, which you never do, apart from a single class and this class leads means candidate A is a double major and candidate B is a single major, but I think the class candidate B took is more valuable then I will go with B. That said, there is no formula for admissions so things like this come down to the individuals on the committee.

  • So, apart from the second degree itself, the courses taken in behalf of that major are beneficial if applying to a relatable field? – HJM Jul 23 '13 at 18:30

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