Campus

I Two Declare: Double Major Culture at Tufts

ART BY ADINA GUO

About a third of students at Tufts are double majors, with an estimated 50 percent having at least one minor. These figures reflect a common interest among students in formally pursuing a variety of academic disciplines.

In recent years, it seems that students in higher education have begun to see the allure of pursuing the double major, an accomplishment that showcases a student’s ability to take on multiple tasks in high-pressure settings. The phenomenon is so popular that it seems commonplace to pursue two degrees. Tufts only asks for students to declare one major—so what makes students so eager to take on the challenges of a double major?

Tufts offers nearly 150 majors across the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). Within this wide variety, students take on classes that fulfill and intersect with their interests. Even if students desire to remain within their academic discipline of choice, Tufts requires that students satisfy general education “distribution requirements,” which vary from school to school. For example, in the Arts and Sciences, these include the social sciences, language, mathematics, and more. The hallmark of the Tufts experience lies in its mission statement: interdisciplinary learning

However, Tufts students often factor the career projections of their majors alongside their personal interest when choosing what subjects to study. For Leslie Correa, a second-year pre-veterinary student, double majoring in biology and mathematics was appealing in part because of the increased career opportunities. 

“I am doing a double major because I love the two subjects and because I want to be secure with a job in the future,” Correa said in a written statement to the Observer. “Even though being a veterinarian is my dream job and the ultimate goal of my studies, if I suddenly don’t want to pursue that, I would love to be a mathematics teacher. The math major would allow me to secure that job and have options behind me if being a veterinarian doesn’t work out.” 

Many students like Correa view their second major as a backup plan. While this planning can stem from uncertainty about what comes post-graduation, Sheryl Rosenberg, associate director of the Tufts Career Center, maintained the idea that “uncertainty is inherent in career planning.” It is critical that students accept the unknown, she argued, and think carefully about “why they’re making the choice that they’re making to double major or to not double major or minor.”

According to Rosenberg, “One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is that it is [a] broad curriculum that will prepare [students] for a variety of career opportunities in the future, because it provides the foundational skills that are needed in the workforce.” When taking classes in an assortment of academic fields, diverse skills are acquired without necessarily needing to pursue a double major.

When reflecting on his undergraduate college experience, Samuel Sommers, professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology, said his single major allowed him to take classes outside of his comfort zone, like art history. Even so, he wishes that he had taken courses in music and beyond. Post-graduation, opportunities to explore one’s interests can be fleeting. Sommers said that when declaring a double major, students “cut down on the flexibility [they have and] miss out on the best things that Tufts has to offer.” When students begin to box themselves into the criteria needed to complete certain academic disciplines, they run the risk of losing the breadth of academic experiences that may be harder to acquire in the same way after college. 

Rosenberg provided a different perspective. “[One’s] major doesn’t need to restrict [their] thinking,” she said. “Through the liberal arts curriculum, whether you have one major or a double major, or a double major and a minor, when you take all these other foundational requirements in this broad curriculum, you are expanding your worldview, developing creative and critical thinking skills.”

Going beyond interdisciplinary studies on the Medford campus, Tufts provides a handful of comprehensive avenues for students to further develop these skills in the form of combined degree programs. Students with strong passions in studio arts and music can pursue five-year programs on multiple campuses. 57 percent of the 552 students enrolled full-time at SMFA in 2022 were part of the Tufts-SMFA combined degree program, which invites students to graduate with a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree and either a bachelor of science (BS) or bachelor of arts (BA) degree to blend their studio training with a liberal arts education. The partnership between Tufts and the New England Conservatory offers a similar program, where students can participate in a demanding music curriculum to earn a bachelor of music alongside their Tufts BA or BS.

For second-year Arianna Shalhoub, a film and media studies and studio art student, the SMFA combined degree program allows her to continue her lifelong passion for art at a higher level while maintaining her academic interests.

“I wanted to pursue a dual degree because I didn’t want to have to choose between art and my potential major,” Shalhoub said in a written statement to the Observer. “I wanted to be able to explore the variety of options that a liberal arts school like Tufts has to offer… in addition to the studio classes at the SMFA.”

Kat Guzman is a third-year SMFA combined degree student studying art history and studio art. While she sees these fields as interrelated, and can cross-count some courses, she said it is “a really different thing to think as an artist and then to think in academia.”

The limits for cross-counting courses appear consistent with the university’s goal of encouraging students to take advantage of its many schools and departments. Within the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the Experimental College, students experience opportunities to participate in civic engagement and to learn through small participation-based courses that expose students to subjects and lecturers beyond traditional classrooms, helping them thrive as individuals by guiding them through diverse experiences.

However, at times, the course load of the Tufts-SMFA program certainly can limit the scope of opportunities students can take outside of their academic disciplines.

When asked if she had taken any ExCollege classes, Guzman said, “That’s definitely one [opportunity which] I don’t think I have space for… but I feel bad saying it doesn’t feel worth it. Unfortunately, I really don’t feel like I have space.” 

Students restricted by the requirements of multiple degrees have less room in their schedules to explore. “It’s really easy to take [a] class and then find out that it’s worth nothing [in major or distribution credits] and now I’m like, ‘Ooh shoot, I’m held back a semester,’” said Guzman.

Rosenberg voiced her hope that students are able to at least be involved in some opportunities outside of their course load that they are intrigued by. As she explained, the Career Center “want[s] students to graduate ready to navigate the work world and their personal world as it changes and as they change, which means that they have skills that they can use in multiple roles in a variety of settings, and a variety of industries.”

​Like any curriculum, the challenge in pursuing a double major is striking a balance between the restrictions and opportunities one provides. As Rosenberg said, whether students decide to double major or not, through Tufts’ liberal arts curriculum, “when you take all these other foundational requirements in this broad curriculum, you are expanding your worldview, developing creative and critical thinking skills.”