More majors, less exploration: Seniors reflect on the feasibility of double majoring at Yale
While double-majoring seniors praised the results of their dual-department educations, they also pointed to the time-consuming process of pursuing two majors.
Tim Tai, Photography Editor
As their time at Yale draws to a close, graduating members of the class of 2023 pursuing a double major spoke to the News about their varied experiences.
The four students — who pursued majors across STEM and humanities fields — discussed the restrictive nature of pursuing two majors and proposed institutional changes to make interdisciplinary academic exploration more attainable.
“As an undergraduate, you should be exploring lots of different courses in different areas,” said Dash Stevanovich ’23. “But double majoring doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that. I know that can be difficult to do when one’s intent is to fulfill the requirements of a double major. Academic exploration and double majoring can sometimes be at odds.”
Stevanovich is majoring in both mathematics and physics. He originally entered Yale solely as a math major, but realized his love of physics while taking physics courses required for his math degree.
While he is deeply interested in both of his majors and expressed gratitude for being able to work so closely with both departments, Stevanovich said that pursuing a single major may have been equally, if not more, rewarding.
“At times, I feel that it might have been more productive to just major in one area and focus on getting really good at the other on the side,” Stevanovich said. “Right now, I have a nice undergraduate knowledge of two areas. But had I devoted the time I spent studying one discipline to the other, I could have dove even deeper into that one space.”
Emme Magliato ’23 — a double major in ecology and evolutionary biology and the history of science, medicine and public health — echoed this sentiment.
Magliato initially decided to double major because she didn’t see a single available major that perfectly encapsulated her academic interests. In hindsight, though, she said she realized that the HSHM major itself fulfilled much of what she wanted to study.
“I was passionate about getting both a scientific and historical education, and, as a sophomore, I thought that the only way to do that was a double major,” Magliato said. “Now, as a senior, I don’t think that that’s the sole way of getting that kind of interdisciplinary education. But I think I was very much pulled to double major because I thought that was how I would be able to combine my interests in the most effective way.”
Magliato said that pursuing a humanities major alongside a STEM major is particularly difficult, given all of the prerequisite requirements for the E&EB degree. Throughout her first three years at Yale, she said, there was not a single semester during which she was not taking at least one prerequisite for the major.
While she enjoyed the prerequisite classes, Magliato said that they were incredibly time consuming and often restricted her from further academic exploration. For instance, she wanted to take Spanish language courses, but could not find the time given the demands of her double major.
Stevanovich had a similar experience, citing limited room for academic exploration. Given his pre-existing interest in math and physics and the competitive postgraduate world in those fields, he said he often feels compelled to fill whatever free time he has with more major-related courses.
Students also spoke to the feasibility of completing the requirements for two majors at Yale. While it isn’t necessarily too difficult to pursue content wise, completing a double major requires meticulous planning and scheduling, Stevanovich and Magliato said.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily harder than not to double major,” said Anna Pertl ’24, a double major in molecular biophysics and biochemistry and political science. “If you have two unrelated majors, it’s definitely going to be difficult, but I think it’s ultimately pretty possible to do it. You just have to be on top of things, and really plan out what classes you’re going to take very early on”
Pertl said that while she is happy with her decision to double major because she is passionate about both of her areas of study, she would caution students away from adding a second major only because they want a second degree.
None of the four students with whom the News spoke said that their academic advisors were a helpful resource in deciding whether or not to double major.
“I rarely speak to my academic advisor about anything, including double majoring,” Stevanovich said. “I don’t actually know if I have one for physics. I definitely don’t think my academic advisor has played any role in this decision. I think talking to the DUS was actually more impactful, at least in terms of figuring out if this path was possible.”
Tony Hao ’23, who dropped a double major in math and psychology to pursue a major only in English, reflected on the student-specific nature of the decision to double major. While academic advisors can be helpful in guiding students through the course selection process, Hao said, they rarely know students well enough to truly help them make decisions about what major is best for them. Hao is a former editor of the News’ Weekend insert.
Ultimately, students expressed that truly making a double major option more attainable requires not just a change in academic advising, but rather more drastic institutional changes.
“I think that there’s a lot of pressure institutionally to do a double major since Yale doesn’t have an option to minor,” Magliato said. “I think the expansion of the certificate programs are incredible, as well as the multidisciplinary academic programs like global health and education studies.”
Hao pointed to the intricate requirements of certain majors that may inhibit students from completing two majors.
For example, while Hao’s focus within the English department is on creative writing and contemporary literature, he had to take a class on medieval literature in order to fulfill his major requirements.
“I think something Yale could do to help double majors is, within the majors themselves, try to make requirements more lenient and accessible,” Hao said. “If they cut the medieval requirement in the English major, for example, the number of required classes will be lower, and double majoring might become more feasible.”
Ultimately, Stevanovich, Magliato and Pertl said that they do not regret their decision to double major, while Hao is happy with his choice to drop a second major.
Still, the students think there is work to be done to make double majoring a more fulfilling option at the University.
“I think a huge thing is just a reconsideration of how we approach education at Yale,” Magliato said. “Because if majors are the primary option for pursuing a field of study, I think a lot of people will continue to double major no matter how confining it can be. But if we can encourage people to academically explore in a more accessible way, I think more people would gain a deeper interdisciplinary education.”
Yale University offers over 80 different major programs.