Double Majors: they help with landing a job (but only a bit)

There’s little research in Canada on whether multiple majors lead to career success. But the United States offers some clues

university double major: Biology class 2F03 with instructor Patricia Chow-Fraser, at McMaster University on Sept 21, 2017. (Photograph by Hannah Yoon)

Biology class 2F03 with instructor Patricia Chow-Fraser, at McMaster University on Sept 21, 2017. (Photograph, Hannah Yoon)

Canadian data is non-existent on whether earning a double major makes it easier to find work. For starters, Statistics Canada does not even count the number of double majors, nationally, because of variable reporting patterns by universities. But American research offers clues.

Last May, the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C. think tank, released a report that showed significant variations in post-graduation job earnings within the same major. For example, the 1.2 per cent of philosophy majors who became management analysts earned a median salary of US$72,000, while the eight per cent from the same discipline who became professors and lecturers earned only US$51,000. “Different career paths and the associated earnings differences for students with the same college major are pervasive and important for understanding both the benefits of college majors and of college itself,” the report concluded.

Maclean’s asked Brookings to drill down on its data from the American Community Survey for 2011 to 2013, a large sample covering three per cent of the general population, to show employment trends for those with double majors.

MORE: Two majors for the price of one

Of 24-to-64-year -olds in the survey with bachelor degrees, only 10.1 per cent reported graduating with a double major. The mean salary for those with a double major was US$81,718, compared to US$78,369 for those with one study discipline.

“I was surprised they are not that different,” says Ryan Nunn, research director of Brookings’ Hamilton Project, which examined career paths after graduation. Those with double majors were fractionally more likely to be working full time—72.2 per cent of those surveyed, compared to 71.8 per cent with single majors. Double major graduates are more likely than those with one major to pursue further studies. According to the survey, 42.3 per cent of double major graduates went on to graduate work, compared to 36.6 per cent with one discipline.


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