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 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 Conservatory 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 writer/editor and arts enthusiast who has worked as program manager for Earshot Jazz (Seattle) and has written for BestNewBands.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Paste Magazine. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Music.


    • Every school is different and not all offer a music minor. Those that do may require students to have had a fair amount of prior music training and experience, while others may be more entry-level programs. Music minors are likely include classes in music theory and music history along with participation in an ensemble; others may include ear training, instrumental lessons, and music electives.

      If it’s piano lessons you’re primarily seeking, ask schools if piano faculty or upper level undergraduates or graduate students are available to give lessons to non-piano majors. Working with upper-level undergraduate and graduate piano majors who’ve had some pedagogy training can be a great way to proceed. Expect to be charged for lessons.

  1. Dri

    Hi… I was wondering if it would be possible to double major in architecture and music (composing or producing) for international students??

    • Every school sets its own policies as to what students can double major in. So you’re best served by contacting any school you’re interested in,

      We recommend that you take a look at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts and Bard College Conservatory in New York. You can ask specific questions of each of these schools by filling out the forms on their pages on MajoringInMusic.com

  2. Kristy

    Hello! Great post! I had a few questions. I am in high school and I play alto sax. I want to do music after high school and was thinking about a music minor. Would you recommend any majors that I could study so I would still have time for music? And with that music minor, what kind of jobs would I be able to get? Thanks!

    • We assume you’ve decided not to major in music for good reasons. As for a minor – Every school is different in terms of what they offer for music as a minor (and even whether they offer it as a minor!) so check schools carefully. Also check carefully what’s expected of music minors. Usually they will fit well with most other majors, depending on whether you are required to play in ensembles etc. and how that fits with the demands of your major.

      A music minor in and of itself will likely not lead to any specific jobs. It’s more what you do in conjunction with the minor. A business major may help you get further with your music, but only if you’re really interested in what you’d be studying with via that major.

      Know that there are various ways to improve your proficiency – lessons, a regular practice schedule, strong site reading skills and other musicianship skills, performing with others. The more you have these under your belt, the more doors will open to you for playing music in some capacity regardless of what you do in your career.

  3. Camila


    Hi, I am looking to major in either business or psychology and minor in music, when i get into a school, do I put buisness down and then how far along or when do I say I am minoring in music? how does that work?

    • Once you’ve been accepted and then start school, you’ll have the option to pick up a minor. This often doesn’t happen until sophomore year or later. And not all schools offer music as a minor while others offer it as a minor in a variety of areas of music. If you don’t or can’t minor in music, you can take music electives and private lessons. So many ways to include music without majoring in it!

  4. Jeriko

    Wonderful article! Are there any schools where one would be able to double major performance as well as composition? I can’t seem to find anything like it, but I’m sure it has to exist somewhere, right?

    • Every school is different in terms of what’s possible regarding double majors. We suggest you start by using the “Find Schools That Fit Your Interests” on the homepage of MajoringInMusic.com. Plug in the majors you’re interested in and then look at the websites of schools that offer these majors. You may need to use the forms on the schools’ pages on MajoringInMusic.com to ask specific questions about the possibility of double majoring in performance and composition if the information isn’t clear on their websites. If you are looking at BM degrees, it’s likely to take five years to be able to accomplish both. Liberal Arts colleges and BA degrees may allow you to complete in four years.

  5. CJ

    I am a Junior in High School, with a GPA of 3.5. I would like to double major in computer science and music composition. I am also an alto sax player and 1st chair at my high school. I am not sure what schools offer such a program and if I even stand a chance to get in. What would you suggest I do to bring up my chances to pursuing my goal?

    • Many schools offer both programs – though it may take 5 years to complete your bachelor’s degree. We encourage you to look at the schools on our website and see what they offer as a starting place – start with the “Find Schools That Fit Your Interests” on the homepage of the website, click on “Search by Majors” and then “Music Composition” on the next page. Look at the schools that come up and see what their application/audition requirements are, and then also look on the schools’ websites to see if they also offer computer science. Most universities as well as colleges do offer it; conservatories like Lawrence and Oberlin and Bard also have programs in computer science.

      Note that we offer fee-based consulting for helping students figure things out that go beyond what you can find on the website. Students under 18 need to involve a parent in this process. Let us know if this is of interest to you.

  6. Jacob

    Hi! I am a junior and have played violin since 2nd grade. I am not as good as I want to be, currently on Suzuki book 4 and am working on the Vivaldi concerto in A minor 1st movement, and I’m just beginning to be able to vibrato. However, I am passionate about it and was wondering whether I could improve my violin playing as a minor in college. I have no clue what college I am going to, but I have great grades and have taken very challenging classes throughout high school. Anyway, my dream is to be able to major in something other than music (maybe poli-sci or math or history still not sure) and be able to “master” (improve significantly) the violin during that time as a minor.

    • As a music minor, it would depend on your school as to how many lessons, performance opportunities, and time in practice rooms you’d be able to get in order to improve your playing significantly. You might need to work harder and be a strong advocate for yourself in order to find ways to get all of that as a music minor. You may also need to pay extra to get more lessons.

      With really good grades, consider liberal arts colleges. Students don’t have to declare their major when they apply or enter as freshmen. Liberal arts colleges give you time to explore before making a commitment. They also make it much easier to double major in music + another field you’re passionate about.

  7. Rachel

    Hello! I am currently a junior with a 4.0 GPA. I have been doing music since I was 5, and definitely want to pursue it, but I have recently been thinking a lot about majoring in Political Science as well. Would it be possible to get a major in Music Performance or Music Education as well as a major in Political Science?

    • Each school has its own policy about double majors. So you’ll need to look at websites of schools you’re interested in to see what’s possible. Double majors are demanding, especially if you’re pursuing a BM music degree. You should be equally passionate about each major in order for it to work for you. And it may take more than 4 years to get your degree. Other options would be a minor in one of these two areas, or electives in the area you’re not majoring in. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to prepare your audition and apply and audition in music in your senior year of high school. Unless you enter a music major as a freshman, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to graduate in 4 years at schools other than liberal arts colleges because of the sequence of required music classes.

      For more on the topic, read: Double Majoring with Music

  8. Katalin

    Hello! I am wishing to pursue a double major in music (specifically voice/opera performance) and business. I am interested in going into a music career, however, since I also want to have some sort of financial stability and also the skills to manage myself if I get ‘out there’, I am also pursuing a business degree as well. Any advice or tips? And also, how does one go about applying to schools for two majors?

    • You will definitely open more doors to employment by majoring in music + business. However, you need to be aware that as a double major, you will be responsible for juggling the requirements in both fields. Look for schools that welcome double majors and ask admission offices questions that will help you think out your plan. Read this new article to give you some guidelines: Double Majoring with Music: Questions You Need to Ask You’ll find other options to consider, such as business minors and/or entrepreneurship certificates offered by some schools.

  9. Eve

    I’m a Junior this year, and I’m interested in English and Vocal Performance. I love studying music, and I am currently in a Saturday music precollege program. However, I don’t think I want to go into music career-wise. Because of my interest in music I am thinking of doing a double major, dual degree, or minoring in Music. Because I am not trying to become an opera singer, I just enjoy learning and studying music, I was wondering if there were any suggestions for Universities with strong music departments (as opposed to separate music schools/ Universities), or strong minoring programs? I have found that many schools do not offer the same breadth of classes for minors that they do for majors, so I am looking for a place where I could double major or minor with the same opportunities as other students. I am looking at schools like Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Michigan, Emory, Carnegie Mellon, etc. Any and all suggestions would be much appreciated!! 🙂

    • Classes available for students who want to minor in music are going to be more limited in scope and accessibility than classes for music majors. Note that at many schools, students who minor in music are also expected to perform in ensembles. Another possibility is to consider a BA in music along with another major. The BA is not as credit-hour demanding as the BM degree, and leaves room for more electives. At liberal arts colleges, double majors are very common. Liberal arts colleges tend to be more demanding in terms of your high school academics. Look at the classes offered, the double major options, and the application and audition requirements at schools you’re interested in, to find out what’s realistic at those schools.

      Note that we offer 1:1 fee-based consultations to help you address your individual questions and concerns beyond what you’ll find available on MajoringInMusic.com. We can work via phone, FaceTime, or Skype. We ask that a parent be involved in the conversations with high school students under 18.

  10. Gabriel S

    Hi! I am interested in majoring in both Psychology and Music or majoring in Psychology with a minor in Music. Do you have any recommendation on what the best Universities would be for my case? I have already been accepted to my college of choice, but my friends are encouraging me to apply to some other places. Any input will be greatly appreciated.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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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