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Why Oberlin? Why Double-Degree?

May 1, 2022

Megan McLaughlin ’22

My “why Oberlin?” story has always been quite simple. I only applied to schools that offered double-degree programs, and Oberlin was the one I wanted to attend the most out of any since the start of my application process. That was my reason for picking Oberlin as a senior in high school, and five years later, I still think it’s a perfectly good reason.

I’m glad I came to Oberlin. I absolutely feel that I’ve grown as a person and found a lot of my passions and motivations going through the double-degree program and college in general. I wouldn’t be the same person if I’d gone to some other school, and I definitely wouldn’t be the same person had I not done the double-degree program. Because my “why Oberlin?” story doesn’t take up enough room for an entire blog post, and because I’ve been spending a lot of time ruminating on my college experience before graduation, I want to reflect on my time as a double-degree student.

Doing the double-degree program was definitely not a mistake, but if I had to start college over, I’m not so sure I would do it again. It’s hard, because, again, I wouldn’t be who I am right now if I hadn’t gone through the double-degree program. I do think that if I could go back and talk to my high school self, I might say that I should be a college music major, instead of doing double-degree. 

I’ve never loved performing. That may sound silly, considering I’m getting an entire degree in music performance, but I know plenty of performance majors who feel the same. The thing I love about music is collaborating with others, and I could have done that perfectly well without getting a Bachelor's in Music. I knew I didn’t want to be a professional performer going into Oberlin, but the double-degree program sounded doable, college music majors weren’t really on my radar, and I thought that having five years instead of four would give me time to do everything I want and figure things out.

To be clear, I am not trying to knock the double-degree program at all, and I absolutely believe that if you are looking for the best double-degree program out there, Oberlin has it. I didn’t dislike going through the program either; I found a passion for music history I didn’t realize I had, and really enjoyed taking a lot of classes in that department and getting to know different music history professors. I also enjoyed the music theory I took (bar aural skills); it was nice to work with many different professors and hear their thoughts on music and music education. I also really enjoyed all of the ensembles I played in and how student-driven things were.

The short reason for why I’m not sure I would do the double-degree program again is because it took up so much time.  Obviously fitting two four-year degrees into the span of five years is a tight crunch, and it’s a really rigorous program, but I personally felt like the curriculum requirements for the Conservatory side of the program were more than I needed or wanted, especially in comparison to what I was doing in the College. I think that in general the distribution of Conservatory versus College for double-degree students isn’t anywhere near 50/50, and I feel like I spent so much time on music that I missed out on the other things college has to offer.

The first two years of double-degree are very Conservatory-heavy, course requirement-wise. I didn’t explore many departments before declaring my College major, and I feel like I didn’t get very involved with the College until very late in my undergraduate experience (as in, not until my fifth year). That’s not on the double-degree program. I was so irrationally afraid of falling behind in my degree requirements and graduating late that I declared basically the first option I had for a College major, instead of seeing what else was out there. And  I could have made more of an effort to make friends in the College, or get involved in more student organizations. I didn’t have the guidance to do that in the moment, though, and I didn’t realize my regrets until very late in the game.

Most of my time going through college, I wasn’t completely happy with the path I was on, but I could never point out what was wrong or what could make things better. I thought about it all; I considered dropping my College major, dropping my Con major, dropping music performance and switching to a musicology major to stay a double-degree student. In the end, though, I didn’t do any of those things, because change is scary and dropping a whole degree is scarier.

I guess, in summary, I didn’t quite realize what was missing from my college experience until I got to the end. That’s the tricky thing. I couldn’t have known it as a senior in high school, but in hindsight, a double-degree program actually isn’t really what I needed. For the most part, I just think it’s complicated to try and describe my experience with the program, because everyone goes through it so differently, and honestly that’s one of the best things about it. 

All I know is that in my last semester of college, I’m doing more in the College than I ever have before, and it’s making me really happy. I’m in a tap dancing group! I’m writing articles for the newspaper! I’m in OCircus and I’m going to march in a parade in a few weeks!

Everyone has good things and bad things to say about their college experience. Who’s to say if I’d do the double-degree program again, but even if my experience wasn’t perfect, I’m still very happy I did it. There are definitely things I would have done differently if I’d had more information or guidance, but I made choices as best as I was able to in the moment, and I’m eternally grateful for my experience in the double-degree program because it led to what comes next.

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