High academic success v. multiple majors

Ally Taylor

Linley Kirkwood is a sophomore liberal arts student at Villanova University. She is an honors major … but she also has a concentration in peace and justice and a minor in business.

Kirkwood is one of many students who are embracing a growing trend within the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business at Villanova to graduate with more than one major, or with additional minors or concentrations.

“I’m not sure what I want to do when I graduate, so I figure I should cover lots of bases,” Kirkwood said.

According to statistics calculated from data compiled by Kathy Liberato, technical coordinator for student information, 49 percent of the Class of 2006 graduated with an additional major, minor or concentration, an 18 percentage point increase from the Class of 1996.

Liberato said that the current system for recording students’ majors, minors and concentrations was not installed until about four years ago, so statistics from before then are less reliable. However, she said that in her four to five years working at Villanova, she thinks there is a visible trend concerning the number of students receiving additional majors, minors or concentrations, particularly in the liberal arts and business schools.

While less than half of engineering, science and nursing students pursued additional certificates in 2006, 58 percent of liberal arts and 57 percent of business students declared more than just one major. This percentage tripled from the 1996 graduating business class.

“I think the business school encourages double majoring,” said Nicole Mainardi, a sophomore accounting and economics double major. “A lot of the courses overlap, so it’s easy to get both.”

Mainardi believes that her double major will give her a strong background to study corporate law after graduation. She understands why students would choose only to focus on one major to get a solid background in one subject, but she said she would rather take the opportunities to study as much as possible while the opportunity is available.

Nursing, engineering and science students have more rigid, full schedules that often do not allow for extra electives to pursue minors, which may account for the lower percentage of students graduating with extra certificates, Liberato said.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a student must complete major and core requirements as well as free electives, to get a bachelor’s degree. Free electives allow a student to get a second major, concentrations or minors, according to Lynda A. Capuzzi, assistant director of advising and professional development.

This enables students to explore areas of study in additional fields that interest them. Also, complementary certificates can increase a student’s value as a potential employee, Capuzzi said.

While additional certificates may help students pinpoint skills for specific jobs, Director of Career Services Nancy Dudak said that having extra majors, minors or concentrations may not make a difference to potential employers and graduate schools.

“It’s not necessary,” she said. “I try to discourage students from ‘overpackaging’ their education.”

Students come into her office seeking advice on picking majors, and they have set lists of what they want to take. Then, they struggle to meet all the requirements and graduate on time, often missing out on other available opportunities, like interning or studying abroad, she said.

“Pick a major that you really like,” Dudak said. “Leave yourself open to some wonderful electives.”

She attributes part of the increase in double majors, minors and concentrations to an increased number of students entering college with AP credits, leaving more room in their schedules to take electives. Dudak also said that students sometimes will register for a major or minor in order to take a course that is only opened to students majoring or minoring in that department.

Dudak believes that students get a feeling of comfort by fitting all of their courses into packaged majors, minors or concentrations. She said it gives them a “false sense of security.”

Instead, she encourages students to consider options before committing to multiple programs.

“Employers, they want successful people,” she said. “A company on Wall Street would hire a 3.6 history major over a 2.6 finance major.”

Companies want to know what abilities, such as team work, leadership, written and verbal communication and analytical skills, a potential employee may have. They are more likely to hire someone with high academic success in one area than average success in multiple areas, Dudak said.

She gave the example of studying a language, which employers would see as beneficial to the company. A student may be able to speak the language after only taking two or three courses in it without fulfilling Villanova’s requirements to get a minor.

“The employer’s interest is only if you are able to read, write and speak it,” Dudak said.

She suggests students establish a major first, and then pursue minors and concentrations after figuring out what interests them.

“Be thoughtful,” Dudak said. “Don’t be in a hurry to just check boxes off a piece of paper.”