Double Majors: Influences, Identities, & Impacts

Download the Final Report–Double Majors: Influences, Identities, & Impacts

Building on the work completed with a 2006 Teagle grant which focused on the question of assessing the “creative campus” (a vision of college campuses as creative environments that encourage collaboration, interdisciplinary exchange, risk-taking, and cultural vibrancy), this project explored the relationship between creativity on campus and higher education’s increasing interest in interdisciplinarity, especially as it is manifested in double majoring. Guiding this study was this overarching concern: “With respect to creativity and a liberal education, what is the value added of graduating with two majors?” The principal investigators of this project, sociologists Steven J. Tepper and Richard Pitt of Vanderbilt, contended that very little work had been done in recent years on the rising trend of double majors, and especially on its benefits and drawbacks. They explored the choice and impact of different curricular pathways—with an emphasis on the differences among a variety of possible college major combinations—among undergraduate students at four comprehensive institutions and six liberal arts colleges.

A web-based survey was used as the principal tool for gathering information from approximately 700 undergraduate students. The survey captured data on student demographics, academic choices, and an understanding of their creativity and innovation. It was administrated to a stratified random sample of students, including those with a single major, those who are double majoring in two “non-creative” fields, and those who are double majoring in one “non-creative field” and one “creative” field. (A “creative” major is one that possesses a critical mass of creative attributes from a total group of fourteen.)

Data analysis proceeded in the following ways:

Examination

Examined information about majors in conjunction with self-reported transcript data to determine if different profiles are correlated with academic success, breadth of curricular choices, and depth of “professionalization” in courses.

Documentation

Documented what types of students major in what types of fields and to what effect. Controlling for certain background characteristics (like family background, dispositions and interests), the study sought to identify detectable differences in the college experience for those students who stretch themselves across different domains of knowledge.

Comparison

Studied the effect of double majoring at a liberal arts college in relation to the effect of double majoring at a comprehensive institution.

Related data on majors to the survey data on creativity to “determine correlations between the combinations of majors and students’ innovativeness both in and out of the classroom.”

Presentation

The investigators followed up data analysis with group interviews, or small structured discussions. Project outcomes will continue to be presented at meetings and conferences and published in journals of sociology and education, and as a white paper presented to the Teagle Foundation.