Varied Classes Benefit Students

for buettner

As a sophomore, I am coming to the time when Emory requires me and the rest of my graduating class to declare a major. On the surface, it seems that this decision will be one of the defining moments of our lives. We are essentially choosing a path to follow and specializing in a discipline.

However, this view isn’t necessarily correct. According to Forbes, job hopping — or voluntarily switching companies or jobs after a short period — is the new normal for Millennials (people born between 1977 and 1997). On average, a person of this generation will stay at a single job a little over four years, meaning that there could be upwards of 15 job changes in our futures. All of this career-switching means that it would be impossible to major in every subject area needed to successfully complete every job.

This is where the importance of a liberal arts education begins. Initially begun as a way to provide students with a well-rounded education that included social sciences, humanities, physical sciences and modern and ancient languages, the idea of a liberal arts education has expanded to include teaching writing and logic through various assignments and class discussions. Emory, with its general education requirements, sets a minimum level of a liberal arts education required for graduation from Emory College of Arts and Sciences. It is up to the student, however, to expand their education in areas outside of their major.

At times, this can be difficult. The demands of many majors in terms of class requirements and difficulty can make it almost impossible to balance taking required courses in addition to ones outside of the major. For people who are double majors, or considering it, like myself, this task can seem daunting. There is a feeling that by taking a class outside of the major, one is missing out on the chance to take a class in the major and thus fulfill the requirements needed to graduate with a specialized degree. This feeling can be coupled with a sense of missing a chance to expand one’s knowledge of the chosen major or majors, especially when deciding between taking a variety of classes in the department or other classes outside of it. Feeling this way may prevent academic exploration, and this can be a possible detriment to the student. Often overlooked, academic breadth is sometimes more important than depth.

It is true that some careers, like those in the medical field, require a depth of knowledge in multiple particular areas, but there are even more careers and paths that require a wide range of knowledge bases. Take someone who works in advertising, for example. A knowledge of anthropology would be important so as to understand the culture of the audience for their ads. A knowledge of psychology would be important so that they can understand the emotional affect their choices have on the viewer, and a knowledge of another language would be helpful so that the implication of what is being said can be translated accurately. The list could continue on to include a multitude of subjects outside those which one studied in college.

While many may make the decision to double major to increase their marketability to employers or graduate schools, in reality, this may not be the best path to choose. Other double majors may be concentrating in two areas simply as a result of a passion for both subjects, a situation that requires more contemplation on the part of the individual and, if I had to guess, this idea accounts for the majority of double major declarations. Even these two situations don’t explain every decision to double major. For those double majoring solely to increase marketability, a double major student who studies in two seemingly opposite fields may not be learning as wide a variety of subjects as their single major counterpart.

This is especially true if the single major is exploring classes in all departments of the college. Many employers claim they are looking for a well-rounded candidate for a job. If this is true, then they will want to see an understanding of subjects that span a great range. Oftentimes getting a job is more about professional experience in that area or in general than it is about your major. This gives us even more incentive to seek out opportunities to build our professional lives in a variety of areas to gain experience in many job sectors and therefore qualify for one or more jobs. Experience is important to the job application process, so it may be more beneficial to seek out professional experience, rather than attempting to increase your job marketability through a double major.

Declaring a major is a way of indicating a focus on a particular subject; it is not saying that a person with a certain major isn’t capable of and doesn’t have an extensive knowledge of other subjects as well. In no way does my declaration of a History major indicate I am unable to understand biology or chemistry; it is merely an indication of the academic subject I chose to dedicate time to.

For those considering a double major, I would suggest identifying exactly why it is essential that both subjects be majors, instead of choosing a minor in one of the areas. Sometimes, the push to sound outstanding on paper prevents us from being outstanding in real life.

I am sure to many of our future employers, and to other students like myself, a wide variety of classes and mastery of subjects is far more impressive than a specialization in one. It is important to show potential employers, professional schools and graduate schools that you are capable of understanding more than a single subject or area of subjects. This not only makes you more marketable, but it also makes you more interesting and better prepared for any potential employment that comes your way.

While double majoring is still a great choice for some, and I am still heavily considering it, it’s also important to take advantage of the liberal arts education that is available here at Emory. There are many great reasons for double majoring and for some people it is the choice that best fits their goals and desires. I would not be considering a double major if I did not see the benefits of having two areas in which I am well-educated.

Double majoring is, and will continue to be, an individual choice that depends on a variety of factors. I would encourage everyone, double major or not, to look at their academic choices and assess if they are truly preparing them for their desired future. The post-college years are intimidating, and a sense of security can be comforting and can compel you to make choices only for their potential career gain. Double majoring is a choice that should not be made solely for the potential post-collegiate benefits and security some think it provides. The choice to double major, like all academic choices, should be one that is carefully considered on an individual basis in terms of your personal plans and goals for the future.

— By Alli Buettner, a College sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri.