Research shows benefit to double majoring

BY BRIANNA JETT | APRIL 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Students at the University of Iowa and across the country are increasingly choosing a second major.

Both school officials and researchers said having a double major potentially benefits the student. A study conducted by Richard Pitt and Steven J. Tepper, sociologists at Vanderbilt University, found that students who major in two areas report more success both in school and outside of it.

Many officials at the UI encourage students to have double majors for many reasons. In the fall of 2012, 6,905 undergraduate students had double majors, up from 6,499 the year before. In the fall of 2000, 3,501 students had double majors.

“I think today employers are asking more of universities than ever before,” said David Perlmutter, the director of the UI School of Journalism. “I think it’s good for students to get the most out of college that they can.”

The journalism school requires students to either have double majors or have areas of concentration outside journalism.

Pitt stressed, though, that the issue is not black and white.

“What we found was much more complicated than double major, good, single major, bad,” he said.

The potential of a double major depends on which two majors are paired, how thoughtful a student is in working with both, and how helpful faculty are in making sure a student can integrate them.

Among the benefits of successful a double major, the study said, many students report they are better at solving problems and thinking creatively. This is especially so when the majors are not similar.

“For the most part, yes — students say they are more creative when they have majors that reach across cognitive clusters,” Pitt said.

Feshman Jessica Lu, who is currently majoring in music performance, is strongly considering reaching across campus and adding a major in math.

“You can view the world so differently after you take a math course,” she said. “They both use problem solving, and I think it has made me better at solving problems.”

Susan Felker, the assistant dean for the Tippie College of Business undergraduate program, agreed that double majors can be positive. She said approximately 20 percent of the business undergraduates have double majors.

“We feel double majoring can be a great benefit for students when it is part of a well-rounded academic plan,” she said in an email. “There are specific combinations that make a lot of sense in some industries.”

Sophomore Steven Bieber also found it beneficial to have two majors that are similar in nature. Currently he is majoring in cinema and journalism.

“With mine being so similar, I think they complement each other,” he said.

There can also be benefits of double majoring that appear long after graduation.

Pitt said that research has shown that double majors are paid better. He stressed, though, that the payoff is not immediate.

“Fifty years in, somehow the magic kicks in,” he said.

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