Unrelated double majors enhance education outcome

A new semester is upon us, and while sitting through classes of varying levels of interest and going through personal crises about future career goals, I want to encourage students to make their college career more enriching. If students have the time to add multiple minors or a double major, they should do it—but in an area of study completely different from their first major. I am a senior English and economics double major. I knew I wanted to study English when I came to Geneseo, but was overwhelmed by the numerous English and philosophy courses offered my first semester. This frustration inspired a search through 13 different academic departments for other interesting major options.

Some students believe that studying vastly different subjects is useful because it helps develop personal skills in two distinctive fields. What is most important about the double major, however, is the impact it can have on one’s perspective of the world—a double major stimulates intellectual development.

I am interested in studying humanity, an area where my two disciplines could not have more dissimilar views. The majority of literary writers adopt a humanistic understanding of people that values individual emotion, conscience and empathy. On the other hand, economists tend to ignore these characteristics; they believe self-interest is the root of human nature’s motivation.

Being confronted with such conflicting views has forced me to think critically about two incredibly intelligent groups of thinkers. I’ve synthesized both perspectives to understand why some people behave in one way and others behave differently. My understanding of human nature—while certainly not perfect—is more complete as a result.

It is unlikely that I will ever have a job where I use a combination of information about Alfred Lord Tennyson’s use of extended metaphor and the determinants of international exchange rates. But barring those who enter academia, most people don’t end up using most of the knowledge they learn in their undergraduate degree, anyway.

Life does not happen within the confines of a single discipline. Every one of us is affected by sociological factors, political realities, physics formulas, mathematical certainties and artistic genius. Dipping one’s toes into many of these perspectives is useful, and having a sustained relationship with more than one of them better prepares one for the multidimensionality of life.

The goal of a liberal arts education should be to train an open and powerful mind. There is no one more open-minded and powerful than someone who can do two things at once.