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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Are you a double major? At Brandeis, that just makes you like everyone else

Published: January 25, 2008
Section: Features

PHOTO BY Ben Sacks/The HootWhen I ask my friends what their majors are, their responses usually include at least two different departments, normally with a couple of minors thrown in between. It seems everyone is at least a double major, or a major with multiple minors, or something to the effect of over-achievement. A sign on East Pomerantz 5’s wall says it all: “Together, we are 31 different people with 45 majors and 50 minors…and we are taking 134 classes this semester.” It doesn’t take a math genius to break down the numbers: using Pomerantz 5 as a representation of the entire Brandeis undergraduate community, the average Brandeis student takes 1.5 majors, over 1.6 minors, and 4.3 classes a semester, or in more realistic measurements, 50% of students double-major on average, 60% double-minor, and at least one in three students takes a fifth course in a given semester.

Pomerantz 5 cannot be used as an accurate measure of the entire Brandeis community, but the numbers are telling nonetheless. Students like to fill more than the minimum graduation requirements at Brandeis. My favorite example is my good friend Vera Wexler (‘07), who triple majored in English and American Literature, European Cultural Studies, and Near Eastern and Judaic studies, triple minored as well, and would have attempted a fourth major if not for a university policy against it. If Brandeis is a liberal arts institution, designed to give students a well rounded education in a variety of fields, then why do students concentrate in relatively few areas for the majority of their college career?

For some students, it just worked out. “I just took classes I was interested in, and then I realized that I just needed one or two more courses to complete the IGS major.” stated Rajiv Ramakrishman, ‘10. Though he had wanted to double major, it just kind of happened.

For other students though, filling multiple majors or minors is the goal. “I do it for interest,” stated Deborah Beth Medows ‘08, an IGS major and double minor in Anthropology and Economics. “I like having marks of expertise in different areas, it’s just my style.” “It’s just the norm,” explained Christina Tom ‘10, who is double majoring with one minor. “If you only have one major and one minor here you are kind of boring.”

Tom, a midyear of the class of ‘10, is attempting to complete her majors and minor and still graduate in 3.5 years in the spring of 2010 with the rest of the 2010 class. “You don’t hear of students graduating in the winter and having a winter graduation party. And even if we did, that would just put us in the same situation we faced before we came to Brandeis, an awkward semester between graduation and graduate school.”

Mike Weil ‘10, Pre-med (which is not technically a major, though it is demanding enough to be one)/History with a minor in Hebrew has more than one interest, so he studies more than one field. “I love science, I find it interesting, but I know that when I go to medical school I’ll have plenty of science courses,” he said. “History is my passion, I like to learn about different things, so that’s why I’m not a science major now. I like language, I like what I’m learning now- I’ll learn the science stuff in medical school and get a well rounded education now.”

And finally, we still have that seeming minority, the few who actually intend to have just one major and one minor, like Hilary Hammer ‘09, who is majoring in Psychology and minoring in education. “I’m happy with that,” she told me. “I don’t feel the need to have three majors and three minors or whatever. I’m not taking any extra majors or minors just to say I have them. I think some people believe it looks better on a resume, some people accumulate majors so they can say they have them.”

Although some people feel like Hammer, many do not. Whatever course people choose to follow during their undergraduate careers, we should remember: college only comes once, and these few years may be the best years of our lives. Although we may be learning a lot now, as Dr. A. Lawrence Lowell said, “Of course there’s a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors don’t take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates.” ‘Nuff said.

A version of this article was previously misprinted, stating that Deborah Beth Medows ’08 held a double minor in “Anthropology and Hebrew.” We have corrected to the article to read that Ms. Beth Medows holds a double minor in “Anthropology and Economics.”