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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The highlights and pitfalls for those with multiple majors

“What is your major?”

It’s a question that is synonymous with introductions to new faces on college campuses. Right after “what’s your name?” asking someone what their major is can let the other person know vital, albeit stereotypical, information about you.

But what does double majoring say about a person? Or, for that matter, a triple major? Are they overachievers who cram their schedules every new quarter? Do they have time for extracurricular activities? Do they finish in four years? And what were they thinking?

Senior Matthew Mak, a triple major in Japanese, economics and international relations, said most people are surprised initially at his choice to triple major, but that for him, it is worth it.

“It’s been very rewarding. If you’re ambitious, then just go for it,” Mak said.

According to the UC Davis Undergraduate Admissions website, 12 percent of the student population graduate with double majors. The data for those who will graduate with more than two majors, like Mak, are far fewer.

However, is it best for students to focus on just one area of study or should they divide their time between two or more?

Maiesha Kiburi, a pre-graduate advisor at UC Davis Advising Services, cautions students to think about what it means to add on more than one major in their undergraduate studies.

Kiburi advises students who are deciding to go to graduate schools that most programs look at GRE, GPA and relevant experience – not how many majors an applicant has.

“Generally speaking, a student is better off focusing on one area. If a student does end up doubling or triple majoring it could end up taking time away from research, internships, etc.,” Kiburi said.

Kiburi also reminds students who have multiple majors that the two or more majors should be different enough to avoid overlapping courses.

UC Davis policy on multiple majors states that there should be no more than 20 percent overlap of courses. This means 80 percent of classes need to be unique for one major, making sure both majors are distinct. Students should avoid earning both degrees in similarly themed majors such as Cultural Anthropology and Sociology because there will be enough common area between the two, Kiburi said.

Mak, who will graduate on time this year, said it is difficult keeping track of overlaps. He keeps a computer of all his courses and constantly checks in with counselors.

However, Mak, who finished his Japanese major his sophomore year, has also managed to include internships with the State Department, Morgan Stanley and studied abroad for nine months in England.

Now, with graduation around the corner, Mak has applied for 20 positions and expects to get interviews from most of them based on previous experiences.

“You do impress employers. They’re actually quite impressed and shocked. It doesn’t guarantee a hire but most of the time I got an interview,” Mak said.

Similarly, Maha Neouchy, a senior double major in psychology and communication with a minor in the Middle East and South Asia studies, feels that most employers are impressed.

“With employers, I feel my double major really helped me. It shows that you can handle a lot and multitask,” Neouchy said.

However, Neouchy discovered that sometimes having too many qualifications for a multiple major can have the opposite effect and become an obstacle to employment.

“I feel sometimes people can become intimidated and I don’t understand why,” she said.

In one instance, Neouchy had applied for the position of a peer advisor at the Letters and Science department but did not get the job.

“The woman said I didn’t get the job because I couldn’t relate to students. I was too overqualified,” she said.

Emily Springer, a triple major in psychology, Spanish and international relations, feels that while having multiple majors has opened doors for different perspective careers, there is also the downside – time.

“There isn’t really any time to take elective classes or things just for fun. It also has meant that I couldn’t take an ‘easy’ quarter, if I just needed a break or had to work a lot or something,” Springer said in an e-mail interview.

Kiburi acknowledges that students pursuing multiple majors are performing a balancing act and most advisors suggest that the success is dependent on the individual.

For more information about multiple majors and how to double major, check out the UC Davis Office of the Registar’s website at registrar.ucdavis.edu.

JESSY WEI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


  1. I appreciate Ms. Wei’s desire to provide complete information to the Aggie readership, but I must add a couple of corrections, as I was unfortunately misquoted. First, to clarify, the percentage overlap between majors that Ms Wei quoted was not information I gave her. I stated that each college has a policy about overlap, and that students need to be aware of such policies before pursuing a multiple major. Secondly, from the perspective of pursuing graduate study, it does not make sense to major in two disciplines that are too similar, sacrificing research, internships, and possibly a higher GPA to do so. I used Cultural Anthropology and Sociology as examples, since there can be so much overlap between the disciplines in relation to research. Since preparing for graduate school is such a delicate balancing act, and time is limited, I was simply explaining how important it is to prioritize grades, test scores, and experience over a redundant second major.

    Lastly, students who need assistance with preparing for graduate school can attend drop-in advising in South Hall. Check the SASC website at sasc.ucdavis.edu for more information.


    Maiesha Kiburi

    Academic Success Specialist



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