Dual Degrees, Double Majors, and Music Minors

Dual degrees, double majors, and music minors…What do these really mean? And what do they entail?

For many high school music students, majoring in music, by itself, feels limiting. A passion for multiple fields or pressure from advisors and parents can make you pause before deciding to go solely for that Bachelor of Music degree. Fortunately, many music schools now offer programs that allow students to pursue more than one degree – at the same time.

by Caitlin Peterkin

1. The Dual Degree

As she started her college search, Janice Li looked into programs that offered opportunities to study multiple fields and found that Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music gives undergraduate students the opportunity to earn two separate degrees in five years. This dual-degree program offers a Bachelor of Music or Bachelor of Arts in Music alongside a degree from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, or the Medill School of Journalism.

Music has been important to Li her whole life. The daughter of a violinist, Li began playing piano at a young age. At her high school in Santa Monica, she was able to keep up with piano even while pursuing other activities. However, when it came time to start making decisions about college, Li wasn’t ready to commit to just studying piano.

Currently in her fifth and last year, Li has been studying both music and psychology, and believes that she made a good choice. “There are times I’ve thought, maybe my life could be easier with just one [degree], but I have to say, after four years, I made the right decision.”

Lawrence University and Oberlin College pride themselves on being on the forefront of offering double degrees over the course of many years. At Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music, half the students also enroll in the BA/BM program that “allows you to immerse yourself in music and at least one other field of study at a very high level.” This 5-year program provides a strong background in both music and another area students are passionate about.

At Oberlin, students accepted to the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory get to dive into music plus a liberal arts field. All students are also invited to participate in the Creativity & Leadership Project, an entrepreneurship program that encourages and mentors them to implement their own ideas and projects.

As another example, the University of Redlands School of Music recently developed a double-degree program, where students can earn a BM and a BA or BS in five years. Along with getting a liberal arts education, double-degree students also have the opportunity to study abroad even with a full curriculum.

“It is a very flexible opportunity for students who also want to do science or math or government or theater,” says Brad Andrews, director of music admissions. The most common double degrees, he says, are music and business or biology.

2. The Double Major

Another option for students who want to pursue more than just music is the double major. At many colleges, students can double major within the music school or between the music school and another department. This is a great opportunity for students to earn a music degree in four years, while studying another interest.

At Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music, most students cannot double major within one’s own college (there are some exceptions, such as music education), but pairing a BA in Music with a non-music field can make a student more well-rounded when he or she graduates.

“I’ve talked to a lot of students who are nervous about going into the world with just a degree in music, or their parents are nervous,” says Amy Mertz, former assistant director for admissions and community programs at Setnor. The double major eases some of that worry.

At the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, students who choose to double major must apply and be admitted separately to each major. “Once admitted, they work with their two academic advisors (one in each major) on crafting a course plan that makes sense given the specific combination of programs,” says Phillip Placenti, assistant dean for admission and student affairs.

The Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College allows students to double major in music performance and music education, or double major in music and other fields including math and science. However, scheduling classes in two distinct majors may result in conflicts that require an additional semester or two before a student can graduate.

Grace Prestamo is a student at Queens who will be staying on for a fifth year. A double major in piano and math, Prestamo is also in the Macaulay Honors Program, which adds additional requirements to her already intensive courseload. Although she wanted to complete her degree in four years, many factors, such as tendonitis and other health issues from being overworked, have prevented her from doing so. With her fifth-year tuition covered by the honors program, she is happy with her decision to take extra time.

“It really takes being sure of what you want to do, because otherwise, with the workload, you wonder if it’s worth it,” says Prestamo. “It’s not just dedication. It’s knowing yourself and knowing that’s actually what you want.”

3. Minors and Ensembles

Minoring in music or playing with an ensemble are great alternatives for students who want to stay involved in music, but choose to major in another field.

USC’s Thornton School of Music offers several minors for non-music majors. Music Industry and Music Recording are popular minors for those with little music experience, while Jazz Studies, Songwriting, and Musical Theatre are suited for those who already have experience.

According to Placenti, the number of non-music majors pursuing minors and elective courses has increased over the years. “We are always trying to think of new ways to engage the larger campus community,” he says,

At University of Hartford’s The Hartt School, a minor in music is open to all non-Hartt students. These students must have an area of performance experience and take the required theory, ear training, music history, and elective courses.

Most schools also allow non-music majors to perform in ensembles or take music lessons. So if you want to study piano with a private teacher or play violin in an orchestra while majoring in engineering or business, make sure that the college you’re interested in has these opportunities.

“The ensemble opportunities are there for every student on campus, not just music students,” says Andrews at the University of Redlands. “We encourage everybody to participate.”


Caitlin Peterkin is a recent graduate of Indiana University, where she earned a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in Music. She has interned at two music magazines and at The Chronicle of Higher Education. She currently lives in Cincinnati, OH.

Comments

  1. John

    What is it like to double major in music and a “heavy-duty” science, like biomedical engineering? Do some of the prerequisites overlap? Is it possible, or is it a recipe to kill yourself?

    • You would need to ask this question to specific schools you’re interested in. Some make double majoring more doable than others. Some tell us that it’s just not possible to double major in engineering and music and expect to graduate in 4 years because there would likely be scheduling conflicts. But there are students who have successfully double majored in neuroscience, biological science, etc. and done fine. It helps if you have AP/IB credits to free up a bit of your schedule if you really are gung ho about doing both. If Engineering is the stronger of the two passions, you may want to look at schools that would allow you to minor in music to keep enough music in your life to keep you happy. Note that music schools tell us it is easier to start with music and then add another major or change majors than to try to pick up music as a major later on – unless you’re at a liberal arts college where you do not need to declare your major until you’re ready to start your sophomore or junior year. Music theory and applied lessons build on each other and it’s very difficult to graduate in 4 years at a university or conservatory-model music school if you don’t start out taking the required music classes.

      Bottom line re: amount of work: you would need to test it out if you’re serious about becoming a double major, to see if the workload is something you can handle and still have a life.

  2. Hello. I’m going to be a junior in high school this year, and play clarinet and saxophone very well. I have a 3.9 gpa and am taking all college courses this year. I love music, and am debating whether or not to double major in music performance and mathematics, or to major in mathematics and only minor in music performance. I plan to be an actuary as a full time job, and I wanted to have a few side jobs involving music performance, like playing for a pit band for a local high or something similar. Is going for the bachelors worth going for with what I want to do? I plan on music being a side job, and not a full time one. Thanks!

    • We just hosted a panel of college admission folks talking about this kind of thing. The consensus was that if you are considering a double major including music, then go for it and see how it works for you. It’s very difficult to pick up music as a major if you don’t start out that way, especially if you want to graduate on time (and at some schools, a double major will have you graduating in 5 years, so do check with the schools you apply to). If you decide you either don’t have time for both majors or it’s too overwhelming, see if you can become a music minor.

  3. Zachary

    I’m about to be a senior in high school and want to participate in music in college. I’ve always been in choir and want to major in international business, but am considering a double major in music or a minor. I’m a good student and maintain a high GPA but was wondering how much the work load difference would be for music minor or major or if I could coordinate my electives in college to where it wouldn’t be a ridiculous amount of extra hours to fulfill the double major.

    • The work load will definitely be higher as a music major and business major than if you were a music minor or a business major who takes some music classes and maybe sings in an ensemble or a cappella group or band. Not all schools offer a music minor so check carefully. Note that if you do want to dual major, you will need to audition during the regular audition season.

      We encourage you to talk directly with schools you may want to apply to, so that you can get a better sense of what to expect. If any of those schools participate on MajoringInMusic.com, use the forms on the bottom of their pages on MajoringInMusic.com to ask specific questions.

  4. Brian

    I’m currently a junior in high school. I’m an all-state clarinetist in my school’s concert band and concert orchestra. I know that going into college I want to stick with music and major in clarinet performance, but I would also like to major in something like social services and social work. Are there any schools (particularly around the midwest) that offer double major programs that allow me to major in music while also majoring in social work? I need to major in music but I would also love to major in something that can keep a steady income coming. Thank you!

    • We haven’t seen dual degree programs in music + social work but we’ve seen quite a number of business + music as well as science + music dual degrees. Many of the social work programs we know of are master’s degree programs. So we suggest you contact a few of the schools you’d consider applying to and talk with the admission director in the music program. If any of those schools happen to be participating schools on MajoringInMusic.com, fill out the forms on their school pages and we’ll make sure they go to the people who will be able to respond.

  5. Marissa

    I am currently a junior in high school. I am definitely wanting to pursue a double degree, but I am not sure whether to take a Chemistry major or a Literature major to go with the Bachelor of Music. I am trying to take a major instead of a pre-law or pre-med program, so what should I do? Also, what are colleges besides Oberlin and Johns Hopkins that make this program available?

    • What you major in has everything to do with what you are interested in learning, have talent in, and what you want to do when you graduate. So if you want to go into medicine, for instance, a science double degree would serve you better than a literature degree. If medicine or another area of science is of interest, be sure to check out this article: Music or Medicine.

      Many schools offer double degrees (music + another option), including liberal arts colleges. So figure out your criteria for choosing a school first, and then see which schools meet those criteria and would allow you to get a degree in music plus another field. Check articles on MajoringInMusic.com for tips on how to determine your criteria for choosing schools to apply to.

  6. Siegee

    Hi! I’m a junior in High School and I’m not sure if I should choose a Music Industries major, double major in Music Industries and Business or Communications or just do Business or Communications and minor in Music Industries or Music Production. I want to be able to work with a music label (ex. Def Jam etc.) but just in case music doesn’t work out, I still want to have opportunities to fall back on in other job areas with business and communications. what do you think? Also should I go to gradute school for Business or Communications?

    • It all depends on what you want to get out of going to school and what you want to do when you graduate from college. Minoring in Music Industry and/or Production is not an option at some of the schools that offer those programs. Also, keep in mind that you’ll really need the experience and networking opportunities that internships offer (read our articles on music industry internships). We encourage you to take a summer music program in music industry to help clarify your college direction – check our 2016 Summer Music Camps & Programs page for starters. You will learn more about the profession and make helpful contacts. LYNX Camp at UC Denver, U of the Pacific (California), McNally Smith (Minnesota), Syracuse (New York) all have programs worth checking.

  7. Aminn

    I’m a Junior in high school wondering about which degree in college to pursue. There’s no chance that I won’t do music, that’s just the only option that I will ever be interested in doing. Music is my life. I am mainly a saxophone player, confident in my abilities. I’m just wondering whether or not to major in music performance, music education, or to do a double major in both. I don’t really want to teach at the moment, I want to perform; whether that be a session musician, or a gigging musician for some band, or playing in the pit of a musical. But if I were to get a degree in performance and then not end up getting a job afterwards for whatever reason, I’d be pretty screwed. I also hate the fact that I have to waste my time taking classes like foreign language, or social sciences and stuff like that, so would a double major eliminate me from having to take some of those standardized “core classes”? So what should I do? Which major will get me closer to my dream job as a performer?

    • One of the first things to understand is that there is no single path to becoming a performing musician. Your personal strengths, education, musical knowledge and musicianship, and curiosity for engaging in life outside of music will all inform your ability to discover the kind of opportunities you dream of. Also, don’t count out the possibility of teaching someday. Most performers do teach at some point in their lives, and it is helpful to have had some kind of pedagogical/music education training in college. As for classes other than music — every music school is different. Conservatories tend to require less general education credits (unless they’re part of a larger university). Most music schools will require you to take at least some gen ed classes. You can look at the websites of schools you’re interested in, to see what students are required to take in order to graduate. Note that college-level gen ed classes can be very interesting and are likely to be very different from what you’re used to in high school, so try to keep an open mind. You might discover new interests. And remember that everything informs your music and creativity.

  8. Ruben

    Hello, I am currently a music major but I was wondering if I switched it up a bit, instead changing to a music minor, would that benefit me in the future? I am planning on majoring in Art Education or Art Appreciation and hoping to get my masters or doctorate on that. Though that still leaves a blank question in my mind: Will I have an opportunity to make something out of minoring in Music such as becoming a guitar teacher or Elementary school music teacher as a side job, while at the same time teaching art at a University?

    • Rachel

      Which state you want to teach in will dictate what degree/certification you will need. For example, I live in NY and in order to teach in a school (public school anyway, I don’t know about private and charters), you need to have a masters degree in education. Some states only require a bachelors degree and I don’t know if some only require any bachelors degree (as opposed to an education degree). If you’re just looking to teach privately, your degree will likely not matter, but adding a music minor may help you “look” more qualified to someone that’s heavily focused on credentials.

  9. Beth Silverstein

    I love this website and only wish it had been around in 2010 when my son was getting ready to apply! I was desperate for information. I would recommend you take a look at University of Connecticut’s Music Education program. They have a 5 year program that graduates students with a BA, BS, and MA in Education with dual enrollment in the music school and the Neag School of Education. It’s a great program. My son is really enjoying it.

  10. john

    Great blog post! I am currently pursuing a double major in Vocal Performance and English Communications at Salve Regina University. Almost all my fellow music majors have chosen to major as well in psychology, social work, and music ed.

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