Oberlin Blogs

Double or Triple Major Madness

February 12, 2009

Prof. Sebastiaan Faber

Why do so many Oberlin students double or triple major? I really want to know. Some people in the faculty and administration see our major madness as a problem; they believe students have a hard enough time focusing as it is. I'm not sure what to think, but have a couple of hypotheses. It'd be great if you could help me out here with some solid anecdotal evidence based on your own experience or on the experience of people around you.

Hypothesis 1: Obies simply have many interests and talents, and don't see any reason to privilege one over the other.

Hypothesis 2: It's all about being cool. We're an intellectual campus: The more majors, the higher your social status.

Hypothesis 3: It's easy, it's fun. Most programs allow double or triple dipping on courses. So why not pile the majors on? (You might wonder why most programs allow for all that dipping. The answer is simple: it's in departments' interest to have a high number of majors. More majors means more resources. Students get to double-dip their courses; we get to double-count the students.)

Hypothesis 4: Major requirements are largely defined by faculty who are out of touch with students' needs. Students tend not to think in terms of academic disciplines, and yet most majors still reflect the traditional 19th-century disciplinary model. As a student, the only way to blaze a meaningful trail through the course catalog is to take a couple of those clunky old-fashioned major structures and cobble together something that works for you. (In this scenario, most students would prefer to do an Individual Major if there weren't so many hoops to jump through.)

So what's really going on? For those of you who double or triple major, how do you see your majors relating to each other? Do they reflect different sides of yourself? Do they in fact form an integrated whole that makes complete sense to you, given who you are and what you want to do in life?

Should we make it harder for students to have more than one major? The College of Arts & Sciences currently offers 50 academic majors and 42 minors and areas of concentration. Is that too many for a college our size? Too few? Should we abolish majors altogether?

Postscript (March 2013): An interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed on a study finding that "Double Major Produce Dynamic Thinkers."

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