Meet Mallory Dwinal. She’s smart, involved and a Rhodes scholar. She graduated a quarter early, triple-majored in Spanish, Economics and International Studies and took on a Business Institutions Program minor. And even though she took seven classes every quarter, she still found time for gratuitous amounts of community service and some fun on the ski team.
“My professors warned me against it,” Dwinal admits. “It was just stuff I really wanted to learn about.”
Her ambition and dedication are admirable, but unfortunately, at a school as competitive as Northwestern, students that go so incredibly above and beyond make the rest of us feel average. And there’s nothing a Northwestern student hates more than feeling average.
So we overcompensate, with double or triple majors. Throughout the nine years she has worked with University Career Services, Tracie Thomas, assistant director of the Career Management Center, has noticed the tendency of Northwestern students to take on a second major. Whether it’s because their AP credits make it easy, because they have a genuine interest in multiple subject areas or they feel as if a second major would give them more flexibility in the job market, many students find a way to earn that extra concentration.
“I could imagine there may be some peer pressure if so many people around you are doing it,” Thomas says.
That peer pressure plagues Northwestern with a classic case of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ syndrome. If Mr. Jones has a double major, we need to have a double major. If Mrs. Jones is on two different exec boards, we need to be on two different exec boards. I’m all for getting involved and doing what you love, but when it comes at the cost of your sanity, this whole do-or-die mentality can really wreck a potentially great and full college experience.
But here’s something that should be no surprise: Sometimes, we aren’t really passionate about multiple subjects. Yet we still force ourselves into the double-major mold. And with an extra major, many students run out of space to explore the various electives they might otherwise love. However, depriving ourselves of a potentially great experience does not make us smarter — it’s just frustrating.
Communication freshman Farah Dahya, a dance major, has always intended to take on an additional major and minor despite her already hectic schedule.
“With a dance major you have limited options,” Dahya says. “Whereas if I mix it with something else… it can turn into a lot of different possibilities.” These possibilities are great for the long run, but when we’re pursuing our aspirations we risk the short-term possibility of letting our youth pass us by.
“It’s really crazy being a dance major right now because my classes only count for one third of a credit and I have the same amount of class time… it’s really stressful,” Dahya says.
However, with this new double minoring option, it seems like we’re getting everything we ever wanted. Now, instead of taking on another major, we can grab those two minors we wanted. And while this is great for people who are actually interested in a various subjects, could it add even more pressure to students who are happy with their major and don’t want to add more structure to their curriculum?
Economics professor Mark Witte is heartbroken when students can’t pursue electives because of the requirements a second major or minor burdens students with.
“[Students] think they’re getting more for their tuition,” says Witte. “But with the 45-48 classes required to graduate, it’s not like you learn more from two majors than one… It doesn’t give you a better education; it may actually give you a worse one.”
He is nervous that students are worried about what they can stuff into their résumé rather than the experience and intellectual payoff from taking a variety of interesting classes in different subjects instead of making every class “count.”
But Witte would be happy to know that some students happily pursue the single major and have a great academic experience like Communication senior Michael Kessler, a theater major.
“It’s embarrassing to say that at this school especially because I work in the admissions office…but I wanted to be able to take whatever classes I wanted.” By keeping his requirements to a minimum, Kessler has been able to explore any subject and take as many classes that he so desires, even if it doesn’t “count” to fulfill anything.
“My adviser told me employers don’t care about minors and I guess because my major on its own is not marketable to begin with, having a double major might have been helpful, but I got the education I wanted so it makes no difference to me,” Kessler says.
So if having that extra major or minor doesn’t do much for your résumé, what are we all freaking out about? Besides, there should be a section right at the top of our résumés labeled “relevant coursework.” Isn’t that enough? Assistant Director of Medill Student Life Dorina Aguilar-Rasmussen thinks so.
“I think some students are under pressure to pursue a second major or a minor because they think it will look good on their résumé. We urge students to look into other classes for experience rather than to have something to put on their résumé.”
These four years are going to fly by if we waste them filling requirements and spots on our résumés. There are plenty of ways to gain experience besides taking on another major or minor. If you really are interested and want to take every single required class, like the talented Miss Dwinal, then go for it, superstar. But if you would rather take something fun like Basic Painting, I will be exploring the art of creative expression next quarter and you should join me.