Double Majoring with Music: Questions You Need to Ask

Double majoring is becoming more and more common for college music students who want to expand their educational experience. Some are passionate about a subject area in addition to music; others are drawn to the tangible skills their double major provides; and most want to increase their job and/or grad school options after college.

by Marcus Turner

How can you prepare to do something like this? What should you know in advance?

The following is a list of questions to help you get started. You may want to bring these with you when you visit music schools or when you meet with your college counselor or college adviser.

Note that colleges, conservatories and universities all design their programs in different ways. They don’t necessarily define double majoring in the same way. They may offer dual degree programs, double majors, minors, and/or certificate programs that will provide the additional education or training you’re looking for. So it’s important to look carefully at school websites and then contact the music admission offices with any remaining questions.

Even if you’re not 100% sure you want to major in music, go ahead and plan to audition anyway. It’s easier to add another major in another field than it is to add music later on, especially if you’re hoping to graduate in four years.

Is double majoring right for you?

Music school admission directors agree that passion is the starting point for anyone considering more than one major.

Mary Smith, Sunderman Conservatory liaison at Gettysburg College, says, “Can you see yourself giving up either of your interests? If the answer is no, then clearly you need to pursue both!”

“If you are sure about following a career in music, do you know specifically what area of music you want to work in?” asks Frank Corliss, director of admissions at Bard College Conservatory of Music. “If not,” he says, “the double degree can prepare you for a broad range of careers in music, performing, teaching, administration, etc.” At Bard, the belief is that a double degree program “makes one a better musician” and all students follow a five-year program plan.

But before deciding to double major, Fred Peterbark, director of admissions at Ithaca College School of Music, encourages you to ask yourself whether it’s really important “to acquire two physical pieces of paper.” And if it is, “Are you willing to do the additional amount of work to complete the degree programs within your desired collegiate timeline?”

What do music majors double major in?

Most schools are open to their music students double majoring in any area other than another area of music. Languages, mathematics, biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, communication, psychology, business, technology – these are the more common double major fields in conjunction with music.

Another option is a program that rolls two distinct areas of interest into a single major. At Northeastern University, for instance, majors labeled Music Technology/Computer Information Science; Music Technology & Game Design; and Music Industry & Communication Studies all require the same number of credit hours as do each of those fields alone. “This allows students the ability to add minors, free electives and other opportunities that allow for flexibility, while still pursuing the cross-disciplinary program,” says Dan Godfrey, chair of the Department of Music.

Conservatory students at schools with a university affiliation can take non-music classes at the university whether or not they are double majors. “Flexibility like this,” says Tiffany Lundquist at Peabody Conservatory, a school of The Johns Hopkins University, “can allow music students to decide to what extent they want to pursue other areas of interest, whether through a single course or a double major program.”

In addition to exploring double major options, ask an admissions office about minors or certificate programs offered in areas you’re interested in at the school you’re considering or already attending. These programs are less demanding time-wise and may provide the additional skills you’re really looking for.

Can you graduate in four years?

A double major program may take longer than four years, depending on the school and the type of degree you choose. Get help early on to figure out how to stay on a four-year track if that’s your goal.

Ask questions up front about how long the combination of majors you’re considering usually takes.

For instance, if you choose business as your second major, will you be required to undertake an internship? Will that add extra time to the program?

What degree works best for double majoring with music?

As long as you don’t need to graduate in four years, you’ll find that you’re able to double major at many schools. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) music degree – if offered – often works better if you want to double major AND graduate in four years, because there are less required music courses and more elective credit options.

Liberal arts colleges tend to build in flexibility to allow double majors to meet all of their requirements within a four-year timeframe.

Find out what’s possible at schools you’re considering by visiting their websites and then contacting the admissions office.

What will your life look like as a double major?

Many factors can affect how you’ll spend your time as a double major.

Things to think about include:

  • Scheduling of classes – Will you be able to schedule all your required classes for both majors? Or will one take priority over another?Mary Smith at Gettysburg stresses the importance of balancing both majors. She urges students to find out in advance what each major involves:<“Will schedules conflict? What about rehearsal times and lab times?”
  • Location of classes – Will all of your classes be held on the same campus?Will you have to travel from one location to another to get to all of your classes?Does the school provide a shuttle bus and if so, how frequently does it run?
  • Time management – Approximately how many classes would you be taking each semester? From what you know about yourself, is this a workload you can realistically take on? Ross Beacraft, director of admissions at DePaul University School of Music, says, “Students need to have excellent time management skills to do this (double majoring) successfully.”

For an insider view, ask the music admissions office for help in finding a current double major to talk with, to learn more about how to handle these and other concerns.

What happens with financial aid if you don’t graduate in four years?

Find out if any scholarships or other financial aid you’re offered or have received will be extended beyond four years. Will you be able to reapply for additional aid if the package you’re offered or currently have expires after four years?

Conservatories such as Bard, Lawrence, and Oberlin, will automatically build in a fifth year of financial aid for double-major students. Some schools will agree to extend any financial awards to cover a fifth year if you complete your double major. And some will not provide any additional merit or need-related aid beyond four years.

Will double majoring help after graduation?

Double degree alumni have gone on to music-related careers in the performing arts, music industry, production, and academia. They have also been successful in medicine, law, business and marketing, says George Palton, director of admissions for DePauw University School of Music.

“The knowledge I gained by completing the double major allows me to bring a different perspective than my co-workers,” says Connelly Doan, a graduate of Gettysburg College with a double major in music and organization & management studies, and now working as a data specialist for a biotech company.“Being able to draw from multiple skill sets allows me to provide a valuable and unique approach to problem solving, which is important in any field.”

Many students also find creative ways to combine their study of music with another subject in their professional lives. For example, Hannah Santisi, an Oberlin graduate in Viola + Sociology, is currently Coordinator of Learning and Engagement Programs at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Others such as Chris Carroll, a Bard graduate with majors in Trumpet + Political Science, now works for The Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802 as Chief of Staff. And Tyme Khleifi, Violin + German Studies (Bard) is the Ensemble Manager at the Boulez Ensemble at Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, Germany.

An important aspect of graduating as a double major is the satisfaction that comes from studying two subjects you’re passionate about. “Most people told me that it would be impossible and that I shouldn’t attempt it due to the amount of work it would require,” says Beth Burton, a 2018 Gettysburg graduate in music and biochemistry. “However, I knew that both of these subjects made me incredibly happy, and with some dedication, I haven’t had any issues keeping up with both majors.” Beth will be attending the University of Pennsylvania for a PhD in Genetics and Epigenetics. She’ll continue with her passion for voice and piano, with a plan “to set up up my own piano studio to teach young children.”

By asking the questions listed in this article and by doing your research on school websites, you can find out a lot of what you need to know about double major options, how they will affect your college experience, and how they can change your life.

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