Over the course of my time at Wesleyan, it has often felt like everyone around me is involved on campus in a million ways and also has a ton of majors. In order to verify if this feeling was true, I took a look at the major reports supplied by Wesleyan. What I found was that, taking a look at the fall 2023 majors report (and noticing similarities in older reports), of the 599 Arts and Humanities majors, 407 have multiple majors; of the 1,063 Social Sciences majors, 692 have multiple majors; and, of the 936 Natural Sciences and Mathematics majors, 673 have multiple majors. I may be losing you by listing a bunch of statistics, so let me put it another way: approximately 68% of Arts and Humanities majors, 65% of Social Sciences majors, and almost 71% of Natural Sciences and Mathematics majors also have at least one other major. I understand that this data is somewhat incomplete as it does not list things like how many of those majors graduate, but it illustrates that this trend is prominent nonetheless.
Still, I haven’t been able to articulate why I think this is the case. My first thought, of course, is that the prevalence of double majors happens as a result of Wesleyan’s open curriculum. With very little (if any, for some majors) general education requirements to complete, students are free to spend their time taking classes in very specialized areas. Even if, like me, you spent your first year taking completely random classes that did not have to do at all with the subject you ended up majoring in, you still technically have the space to essentially start your majors sophomore year, still go abroad for a semester, and complete those two majors by graduation. Of course, I don’t actually recommend this strategy. Though your pre-major advisor might tell you it’s fine to “just explore” as a first-year, if I could go back I would’ve taken at least one or two more classes that would’ve counted towards a major I was actually interested in. The other thing that ends up happening is that for the last two or three years, I’ve pretty much only taken major-related courses, which is great because I love my majors, but isn’t necessarily the case for everyone.
My second thought was that, due to Wesleyan’s status as a liberal arts school, students are drawn to Wesleyan specifically expecting to get some well-rounded exposure to those aforementioned liberal arts. Wesleyan’s reputation attracts people who want to contribute to their community in unique and unexpected ways, given how much they advertise themselves as a place where you could meet a physics major who also juggles fire on the side, a theater major who is writing a musical about math, or someone triple majoring in film, American studies, and psychology. What also helps, in these cases, is the surprising amount of overlap between seemingly disparate subjects and the general understanding that the liberal arts means more than just that you can expect to do a lot of writing at some point in your college career.
Another potential reason is the financial advantages that result from two majors. There is, of course, the fact that it costs no extra money to add a second area of focus when you are already committed to the first one—you can indeed get two titles for the price of one. The other financial aspect is that, in today’s arguably volatile labor market, it is to your advantage to have two separate career options to fall back on. It has also become more and more common for young people to have multiple careers throughout their life rather than work a single nine-to-five until they’re fifty, and for these careers to be in vastly different or unrelated fields. This also feeds into the notion and possible other reason that students who double major do so in order to have one so-called fun major and one so-called real major. The rationale behind this is that artsier majors provide little job security and are simply a waste of money in terms of return on investment. However, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be a main reason for double majoring, given that there are double humanities majors like me who have chosen a combo like English and art history, which others may find less practical.
While there may not be an actual main reason, it does seem safe to posit that such a majority of double majors has come from a combination of these factors, as well as the overall school culture. As I mentioned previously, most of the people I’ve met at Wesleyan have a variety of talents and simply cannot commit to doing just one thing. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a pressure, but there is a certain situational encouragement where the fact that everyone else is doing a bunch of things makes you want to do a bunch of things, too. I certainly did not go into college thinking that I would double major, but the simple fact of there being a multiplicity of subjects I could actually envision myself doing for a long period of time fostered a will to at least try (and now to basically complete, minus one more class next semester). Whatever the reason, I believe that the sheer quantity of double majors contributes to the unique character of Wesleyan, even if that character can sometimes be a little competitive (the horror! the shame! of only having one major). Because the chances are, even if you stick with a single major, you are still making insane time commitments to other worthwhile pursuits: whether that be writing a novel, a part-time job, spending hours in the lab as a research assistant, being a student-athlete, directing a film thesis, or making the preparations necessary to climb Mount Everest.
Emma Kendall is a member of the class of 2024 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.