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More students taking double majors

Claire Heininger | Thursday, September 25, 2003

Senior John Devins wants there to be no doubt about the qualifications behind his Notre Dame diploma; not only is he on track to graduate from the University with a double major in history and philosophy, but he will also earn a minor in theology.

“I’ll admit that I tacked on the minor for the credentials,” Devins said. “Given the light course load that it involved, I decided, why not boost my resume?”

Devins’ comprehensive approach is not unique. Facing heightened competition in an uncertain economy, rapidly-growing numbers of Notre Dame undergraduate students are counting on the theoretical advantage that comes with pursuing a double major, minor, concentration or some combination of the three. Unfortunately, they may be making a big sacrifice in the process, said Ava Preacher, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

“It’s really been a disappointing shift towards a ‘check-it-off’ mentality,” Preacher said. “Especially during the last six years, we have seen a real explosion of students using minors, double majors, even triple majors as a credentialing move.”

Students who believe that a second major will boost their chances of law school acceptance or an immediate post-graduation job offer may be in for a harsh awakening, Preacher said.

“I can definitively say that law schools are not very impressed by a student whose double major does not reflect a truly complementary curriculum,” she said.

Preacher suggested that instead of looking at a minor or a double major as just another credential to list on an application, students should reexamine the idea of deeper intellectual development within their primary major.

“Majors should not be approached as markers that you complete after taking the minimum amount of courses for four years,” she said. “The whole idea of a major is to deepen and expand the breadth of your knowledge of a subject that you are seriously thinking about going into.”

For certain students genuinely interested in two subjects, a double major can make sense, Preacher said.

One such student is senior Linda Joseph, who supplemented her biology major with another in anthropology.

“Since I’m going into medicine, I am also really interested in cultural and evolutionary anthropology,” Joseph said. “These disciplines have a definite connection to my primary biology major, and I would have graduated early without the anthropology courses.”

Except for students like Joseph, Preacher maintained that in most cases, double majors serve as unnecessary padding.

“In truth, the same knowledge can be gained by taking courses across disciplines,” she said.

The College of Arts and Letters did not offer double majors or even minors until recently, Preacher said.