5

So i am really interested in psychology, law, film studies, and writing. (very different topics) Could i double major in psychology and say political science and minor in film studies and something like English, and then go on to get a Phd in either law or psychology? By the time i get to college i am sure my interests will change and i could go into quantum physics or something else, but i am starting college applications and for some colleges it is smart to have a good answer on your desired major instead of putting down "undecided." I am just very interested to see what graduates think of doubling majors and minors and if it is even a smart decision to do so. thanks

  • 4
    Savannah-Jane, It's commendable that you are thinking so far in the future so early, but my advice is to stop. Take classes you find interesting, work with professors that have interesting project, meet the people you can only meet at a college campus. When JR year starts, start talking to professors about after college. Ramp up the summer after your JR year. These things will work out. Find someone at your school who can give you good advice, and have fun. Visit college campuses, and go to the one you feel most at home. – Neo Jun 24 '14 at 18:30
  • @neo I think that has the making of an answer. I would agree that senior year of high school is probably too soon to be thinking of a PhD. – StrongBad Jun 24 '14 at 18:40
  • Also, people have been known to change majors while in college (gasp!). What you say on applications now gives them an idea, but is not a lifelong promise to anyone but yourself. You will be forgiven for changing it. Also, there are ways to pick up the material without declaring it a second major or minor. The first priority is to determine what you want to do for the next five years. Then do it, or find a good reason to change it. For example, if you know you want to work for a company that hires only double majors, that is a good reason to do it. I can't think of other reasons. – Not Quite An Outsider Jun 24 '14 at 18:40
  • 1
    I think looking so far into the future can be a good idea. For example, if you wanted to be a clinical psychologist, you would need to know that very soon if you wanted to not "lose" a year or two. You need to take courses in your first year so that you can take courses in your second year, and so forth. Also consider what you need to do a job, and not just what to study. For example, to get into certain graduate programs you would need an honours degree with a thesis and not just a regular major (or double major). – Behacad Jun 25 '14 at 15:12
9

Savannah-Jane,

The future is always exciting, especially for someone who has promise. But I would caution you into looking too far ahead and "smell the roses".

You have probably one of the most important decisions you will make in your life right before you; where you will go to college as an undergraduate. That is the decision I would focus on. The questions you are asking now are important to consider when choosing a school; no one with graduate school aspirations wants to attend a college that sends very few people to the types of schools you might want to attend. But, conversely, it would be unwise to make a decision about where you study just because you want to go somewhere else afterword: make sure that you go to a place you love for your 4-5 years. If a school doesn't provide enough undergraduate research opportunities, you can always do a masters degree before your PhD. If your classes are too hard senior year and you can't study for the LSAT, you can find a way to take a year off and apply next cycle. These things are important, but they aren't the most important.

When looking for a college, look for a place you can see yourself living. And studying. And getting drunk Friday nights if you are into that sorta thing. A place where you might fall in love. A place where you can make friends you can trust. Look for that professor that takes a special interest in his students, and work with him or her. When the time comes, bring up graduate school, what you are interested in, and these things will work out. There is always a way to study what you want if you work hard and are curious. There are certainly kids who would do better at a small liberal arts college than a large state school, but the converse is also true. Figure out the differences between those types of experiences.

My very good friend ended up studying computer science in college, but is now getting his PhD in political science. English majors go to medical school. Physicists go to law school. There will be some "general" decisions you will have to make in the beginning, like if you are more science or humanities inclined. It would be very hard for an English major to go into a Physics PhD program, but that's all you really need to know. There is no rush in picking a particular major. Don't try to design your whole life. Leave some things up for chance. Curious minds always remain curious.

2

I graduated with a Bachelors of Science, double major in Management and Electrical Engineering. I did them sequentially, first graduating with a BS in Management in 3 years (I took courses in summers) and then back to the same school for EE (in 18 months, again via summer courses).

The best argument in favor of double majors is that you can develop competency and strength in two fields. I personally think it's best if the two fields are related, so that your double major creates a hybrid mix.

This combination was an advantage for me in the job market (industry), mostly because it opened more possibilities (companies, and jobs within companies).

I'm a PhD student now (several decades after my BS) in Computational Social Science, which is in the neighborhood of my original degrees. This gave me a big advantage over other students who had either no background in computer science or none in social sciences.

As for your college applications, it may be fine to list your current ideas for a major, even if it's a double major. But much more than just listing them, I think it would be vital to explain in your essay why these two majors seem right for you, and therefore what this tells them about you as a person. Are you especially good at "creative synthesis" across diverse fields? Have you demonstrated this in the past? Are you intensely curious and thus you want to start with these majors as an entry point for a path of intellectual/personal discovery? And what does the preference for these two majors say about your choice of colleges?

It would also be good to avoid giving the impression that you want to go in all directions at the same time like an espresso-crazed humming bird. (If you are, in fact, an espresso-crazed humming bird, then you might want to get some help and support with that prior to entering college :-) )

1

In high school and the first couple years of college you are allowed to explore different fields and it is easy to change your major. Sometime around the beginning of your junior year you will need to settle on one or two specific fields and enroll in the specific courses needed to obtain a degree in that major. Sometimes it is possible to complete a double major with an extra year of school work. As you get closer to graduation it gets harder to change majors because you already have a significant investment of time and money in the courses you have already completed.

While it is good to be a Renaissance person with many different interests, in today's world you will probably need to be a specialist in one or two narrow fields if you wish to obtain employment in that occupation.

There are some exceptions, the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble completed a law school degree before chucking it all and starting over in astronomy, but that is not usually an option for people who graduate with a mound of student loan debt and a desire to get on with life.

It is not unlike dating, in high school you should be meeting a lot of different people, as you grow older you will probably want to develop a more serious relationship with only one person, but you need to try out a few (or a lot of) different people while you are young before you can decide on "Mr or Ms Right" when you are older.

Obtaining a PhD will require you to choose one extremely narrow field of study and to publish a thesis that represents a piece of original research in which you invent or discover something that nobody else has ever known before. One joke that is frequently heard in academia is that a PhD is "a person who knows everything about nothing", which refers to the fact that you will be a world class expert in a subject that is infinitely narrow. It is not uncommon for different faculty members in a university department to be working and publishing papers in fields that are mostly incomprehensible even to the professor who works across the hall from them.

A PhD is typically preparation for an academic career, which is nice work if you can get it, but academic positions are highly competitive and difficult to obtain. It is also the "license" that you need that will allow you to apply for grant money from government agencies or private foundations to fund the conduct of your research program. Notice that I said "allows you to apply for", not "assures that you will receive" such grants. Unfortunately there are many excellent grant proposals that never receive funding. Your proven ability to obtain money from external funding agencies is the primary thing that universities will evaluate when you apply for a faculty position.

As a result, there are many PhD's working in jobs outside of academia that they could have obtained with a bachelor's degree and a few years of on-the-job experience. There is a serious overproduction of PhD's which has led some academics to talk about the need for "academic birth control" to avoid producing excessive numbers of PhD's. Of course they usually mean that other universities should practice such restraint, not their own institution.

Employers outside of academia may be wary of hiring PhD's for jobs that don't require such a degree out of fear that you are planning to work for them for just a short time until you find the academic research position that you really want. Thus, you may find that a PhD actually limits your job options and the possibility of earning a middle class income in the future.

1

Here is MY personal suggestion for a specific approach to planning your education when you have so many different areas you want to study. I assume you will attend college in the U.S. as a full time student (12+ units per semester) so please adjust if that is incorrect.

In your first semester take the following 4 courses if you can:

  • (1) a class on managing life as a college student (typically these are categorized as Human Development courses but check with your college counselor). These classes are survival skills training for college. Alternatively you could independently study the following textbook while you are still in high-school: "Becoming A Master Student", Dave Ellis, Cengage Publishing, ISBN 978-1-285-19389-2 (I recommend this specific book because it helped me immensely a long time ago. I am not connected with the publisher or author in any way).

  • (2) a class in "how to tutor" which oddly enough will teach you about excellent techniques and habits for studying. It will also prepare you to be able to get a campus job as a part-time tutor if you decide you want to do that later on.

  • (3A) if you need to, now is the time to take "English 101" (it may be called something else Like "English 1" or "Writing 1" but it teaches standard college-level writing). English 101 is typically a pre-requisite for many other classes. Also take any workshops your college offers on writing research papers. Depending on the subject of the class you will need to learn about using MLA, APA, and CMS citation styles. Purdue University's OWL website can be helpful with that.

  • (3B) if you do not need to take English 101 (ask your college counselor) then take a course that is required for your "general education requirements". These are those fundamental classes every student has to complete in order to graduate, regardless of their major.

  • (4) take ONE course for sheer fun! This is for helping you deal with the "pressure" of college. Find an introductory course in some creative hobby you have always wanted to try. Enjoy it (because learning should be fun sometimes) and don't stress about the final grade. But do give it your best effort nonetheless.

  • (5) if by this point you are enrolled in less than 12 units fill in the rest with more "general education" classes (item 3B above).

For your subsequent semesters during years 1 and 2 be sure that 75% of your classes are "general education" classes so you can knock those out of the way. Work with your college counselor to use the other 25% of your classes as a means to explore beginning/introductory courses in the majors you are thinking about. Sometimes an introductory course can reveal information about a subject that can help you decide if that is really what you want to focus your education on.

One Warning: Do not take too many "excess" classes because this will affect your financial aid in the long run.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.