Preparing for College

Choosing a Major with Two Favorite Fields

Question: I am in 12th grade and I hear that it is a very good idea to study philosophy in conjunction with another major. I can see why philosophy would be a great course to study but how do I do that. I love biology and genetics. Do I major in Philosophy and then minor in Biology? Or do I major in Biology and minor in Philosophy? Which is the best route?

Whoa! … put the brakes on! You’re a senior in high school now and you don’t have to choose your major for roughly two more years. Of course, it’s useful to have some interests in mind as you build your college list because this can help you to make smart matches. But, on the other hand, you don’t have to declare a major for quite a while.  During your first two years in college, you may discover new areas that intrigue you, and so it’s possible that both philosophy and biology will be shoved onto the back burner. However, if your present passions continue, it should be easy to double major in these two disciplines, if you so choose.

Depending on where you go to college, you will be required to elect 10 to 12 classes in your major field. A typical undergraduate takes 32 classes (4 classes per semester for 8 semesters) but this could vary quite a bit depending on your college’s credit policies and academic calendar. It’s not unusual for students to take 40+ classes as undergrads. Thus, even if you were to major in both philosophy and biology (or genetics, which is commonly a concentration within the bio major although sometimes a major unto itself), you would only tie up 20 to 24 classes in order to complete the majors. This would still allow you to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to as many as 20 classes outside of your two majors.

Thus, the “best route” for you may be to test-drive one or two bio/genetics classes in your first year along with one or two philosophy classes, filling the rest of your schedule with diverse offerings from different departments. This will be a good way to expand your horizons and potentially discover new areas of interest while, at the same time, further exploring your current ones. Then your freshman likes and dislikes will guide you as you make your sophomore selections.

By the end of your sophomore year, you will have a clearer sense of whether you want to stick with both bio and philosophy. You should also know by then whether you want to focus on each of these areas equally or choose one as your major and one as a minor.  A “minor”—as its name suggests—is really just a mini-major. At most colleges, a typical minor requires 5 or 6 classes.  By deciding to major in one field and to minor in another, you free up your time to take a broader range of classes outside of your areas of concentration.  You will also accomplish much of what double-majoring provides. That is, you get to explore two favorite academic subjects in depth, and you also will present future employers or graduate school admission officials with a résumé that includes advanced study in two separate disciplines. Yet you will still have ample opportunity to look beyond your primary fields to try additional classes that could range from anthropology to advertising or from sports management to stage fighting!

Bottom line: You have lots of time—and options–before making a “major” decision about your future!