Students use more majors to self-market

Educators say multiple degrees
can attract potential employers.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Some college students who hope to stand out in the job market are shouldering more than one major to showcase their abilities and potential.

“Multiple majors make students more marketable,” said Terry Smith, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Columbia College.

Smith said majors that compliment each other, such as business and Spanish, can give college graduates the edge they need to get a job.

“If the two majors are complimentary, you can go to an employer and say, ‘I have academic skills and strengths in more than one area,’ ” he said. “You just present yourself as a person with more academic breadth, especially if those programs include things like internships.”

Exact numbers of students who pursue multiple majors are hard to come by, but Columbia educators said their sense is that the number is rising.

Ted Tarkow, MU’s associate dean of the College of Arts and Science, said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of MU students who pursue multiple majors.

Tarkow said the trend began at MU about 15 years ago when the university first started offering minors.

Students would get a minor and then realize that they might as well get a second major because it didn’t require much more work, he said.

Katy Hight, a May 2003 MU graduate, is one of these super-achieving students whose college coursework made her stand out to employers.

After graduating, Hight, a communications and political science major, immediately landed an internship with a political campaign and, in August, was offered a fulltime position.

“Especially now, employers are looking for people that have more of a variety of experience,” said Hight, who now lives in Iowa. “People who have degrees in different areas, or in areas that are related, have an advantage because it can kind of indicate that somebody has a wider variety of experience to draw from to bring creativity to whatever job.”

There are other factors behind this trend as well. Some college students get a running start on college credits in high school. Students can earn these credits through Advanced Placement exams, university summer school classes and college courses taken in high school.

“I originally decided to be a single major. But when I realized I had a lot of history credits from high school, I declared history as another major,” said MU senior Rebecca Johnson, whose other major is political science. “Plus, I knew a double major would enable me to market myself better.”

While double majoring takes some extra work, triple majoring takes even more time.

Although triple majoring is a lot of work, MU student Stephanie Hunter said she is not missing out on the college experience.

“I don’t think that studying has kept me from doing the things that I want,” said Hunter, who is majoring in French, art and English. “I make time for the things that I want to do.”

In fact, Hunter, a junior, will complete all three majors in 41/2 or five years. She plans to take a year off from college before graduating so that she can teach English in France.

Graduating with two, three or even four majors is not the only thing that can give a student an edge in the job market.

“It doesn’t even take a second major,” Columbia College’s Smith said. “Sometimes a minor in something will suffice. For example, someone who has a major in an academic area and a minor in a language is going to have enough proficiency that he’ll really be much more marketable.”

Tarkow said that the most important thing students need to think about is how they can make their undergraduate experience the best four or five years of their lives.

For some students this means multiple majors, but for others it may mean being involved with other campus activities, he said.

“By asking more of yourself and the institution, you are readying yourself for either graduate school, professional school or a job search process where being someone who is unique is increasingly going to be the critical thing,” Tarkow said.

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