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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 1, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Guest: Double-majoring helps students balance passion and practicality

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan

We’ve heard it before: Studying the arts in college doesn’t provide financial stability and is a waste of time. Even President Obama hinted at that sentiment in his State of the Union address when he made a comment about the earnings of art history majors.

For many students, the arts are an identity. Some may have taken ballet classes or sketch self-portraits for fun. But as these students venture into higher education, many end up not pursuing the arts because of practical, personal or financial reasons.

Students who can afford it have a clear solution: double-majoring. In Washington’s state schools, pursuing two majors generally costs the same as one, if students can pack their coursework into four years. Many students who study two majors must enroll in a costly fifth year of classes, however.

School administrators and state legislators would do well to provide financial and institutional support for students pursuing two majors. Interdepartmental scholarships from the school or even state-provided financial aid can go a long way in helping undergraduates get the most out of their education.

Jordan Rohrs is a University of Washington senior majoring in business with minors in music and dance. He wanted to double-major in business and dance and minor in music, but the cost stopped him. Rohrs said he would have to pay an additional $12,000 tuition and stay an extra year to complete the two majors and minor.

Yet even now in pursuing his dance minor, Rohrs’ biggest challenge is balancing classes to maintain skills in both fields. Both the dance department and the business school only offer certain required courses at select times, he said.

“To try and bring yourself to an adequate level by doing both (business and dance) is difficult,” Rohrs said.

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According to a 2012 report from Vanderbilt University, more students are opting for double-majors, both in related fields and in radically different ones. Researchers found an increase of more than 10 percent in the number of students choosing to double-major. In highly selective public colleges, 30 to 40 percent of undergraduates are pursuing two majors.

The report also showed that double-major students felt they had a richer learning experience. For example, the report explained, a philosophy and computer science double-major could find similarities in the way the two fields work and be able to look at various issues through the two different lenses.

Yet, students with one of two majors in the fine arts still face challenges. They must constantly take art classes to maintain a skill level. With the constant need to take enough technique classes every quarter or semester, students may reach their credit limit or find themselves unable to financially support both majors.

“In sophomore year, (my biology advisers) said to me, ‘If you take more technique requirements, you’ll get kicked out,’” said Esra Comert-Morishige, a UW senior studying dance and biology. “This threat of being kicked out of the school and still paying tuition is ridiculous … I can’t just stop dancing.”

With a little financial support, more college students could broaden their skills by studying two majors. And who knows, one of these students may end up praising the arts in a presidential State of the Union address.

Imana Gunawan is a junior at the University of Washington pursuing a double-major in journalism and dance.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: arts, double major, higher ed

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