- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

Wisconsin native Alexandra Ratzlaff, 20, is a junior at George Washington University with a double major in archaeology and classics and a minor in anthropology. At first glance, the combination may not seem unusual because both her major fields study the science and culture of mankind, ancient and modern. It's certainly not unusual for a student to be a double, or dual, major, because even triple majors are not unknown on campuses these days. What is remarkable is her focus and ability to plan.
"It's all about making yourself marketable," she says. "You start thinking about this by the time you are a sophomore."
With two degrees a bachelor of arts in archaeology and a bachelor of arts in the classics, both in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences she says she will have a wider range of choices when applying to graduate school, whether in classics, art history, anthropology or archaeology. Eventually, she may go to law school. This summer she will take advantage of Washington's many research institutions by working in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History with the curator of Old World prehistory and archaeology.
"Most people are dual," she says of her acquaintances. "Just having a B.A. doesn't have the same meaning it did years ago. I live and work with undergrads and help them choose majors. They have to think in detail about what they want to do down the line. Today you have undergraduates majoring in East Asian studies and chemistry because it is all related especially if you want to go into health and development work in Asia.
"Employers today," she is convinced, "want people with diverse backgrounds. They don't want to train you."
Fellow student Mitra Yegani, 20, of Alexandria, agrees. A dual major in international business and information systems who also works as an intern in the White House as part of GW's independent study program, she has one friend who is majoring in pre-med and religion and another who is majoring in Chinese and international affairs.
"I wanted to be able to have many tools in my hands to use in different areas," Miss Yegani says.

Students at area colleges are crossing all sorts of lines in pursuit of a well-rounded education and increasingly at least at some institutions of higher learning are using the dual major to further their chances in the job market.
Some students, such as Taiwanese native Shen-huan Luan, 22, a senior at American University, choose one field because of its emotional appeal and another for strictly practical reasons. Mr. Luan majors in both music and business "because my biggest goal in life is to be a concert pianist, but my parents have an import furniture business, and I have responsibility for that in the future." He plans to pursue graduate degrees in both management and business in successive years.
John Johnson, 21, who lives in Shaw, is president of the Student Government Association at the University of the District of Columbia and is working toward two degrees, one in theater arts and another in business.
"It's important to have some degree in an area where you can find a job," he says. Just as his grandfather worked as a carpenter while holding a government job, he says, "in [todays] world of technology, you also need more than one skill." Meanwhile, he plans to work this summer as a mentor in a nonprofit organization in Anacostia where he can apply both interests.
According to the American Council on Education, statistics aren't available at the national level on the number of American college students pursuing double majors. Two of the Washington area's largest universities report an increase, representing a significant trend upward.
George Washington University had 189 dual majors in 1997 and 467 registered this spring out of a student body of 8,600. The University of Maryland, with an undergraduate student body of 25,000, reports that just 2 percent to 3 percent percent were dual majors in 1996 but that increased to 13 percent in the fall of 2001. UMd.'s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences has seen a dramatic rise, from 10 percent in 2000 to the current 28 percent.
George Mason University reports a slight decrease: 1.29 percent of Mason's approximately 15,300 undergrads are double majors, compared with 1.7 percent in 1998. Comparable statistics were not available at press time for American University or for Georgetown University, and UDC does not keep records of double majors.
AU Registrar Don Bunis says, "The bunions on my feet say that, increasingly, students want to study in a way that is interdisciplinary, and at the graduate level many are pursuing two master's degrees simultaneously. "
Speaking for Georgetown University, Anne Sullivan, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says, "We see no particular glory in a dual major. Our approach is to question the choice. We don't think the world out there is particularly impressed by it. We query: 'Is it good for you as an individual, or are you jumping into this to impress the world?' We want [the choice] to be driven for intellectual interest and not for any random or trendy reason."

Reasons for the increase vary and, in some cases, reflect the organizational structure of an institution as much as the career goals of individual students aware of a more complex world and less secure economy.
Katherine Stahl, executive director of American University's Career Center for the past 12 years, doesn't regard the shift as exclusively representing a turn away from the pursuit of academic curiosity for its own sake to one that lets the needs of the marketplace dictate choices.
"We encourage them to follow their bliss," she says. "You really should enjoy the work you are doing at the undergraduate level. I wouldn't say to a student that a double major will make them more attractive to employers."
She admits, however, that employers "see something concrete" in combining, say, economics and international relations. She also calls attention to an institutional trend toward interdisciplinary work in general, such as the major created some time ago in AU's School of Public Affairs called CLEG, which incorporates studies in communications, legal institutions, economics and government.
Double majors basically come in two forms, she says: one done from passion and another from happenstance. The latter she defines this way: "Students go in thinking they will become a bioethicist but end up in both bioethics and political science when they discover new interests."
The downside, she says, is that "it can turn them into a pretzel," having to meet course requirements in each field. In 2001, 11.5 percent of AU undergraduates were dual majors. No figures are available for past years in this category.

Choosing a double major for purely expedient reasons can backfire, says Patricia Cleveland, assistant dean in the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. At the Smith School there had been so many double majors up to 25 percent that it was necessary two years ago to impose restrictions because, in Ms. Cleveland's words, "the more double majors, the more demand on faculty resources."
"Employers like a combination such as business and computer science if the student knows why he is doing it," she says. "He can span both areas; he undertands the technies and knows what users need. It's bad if he isn't clear about his reason beyond 'I kinda like marketing.'"
Maryland began an academic unit 20 years ago that allows a student to create an individual major and, in some cases, combine it with a more standard one. The result, according to Jeffrey Kniple, the program coordinator, produces some unusual combinations that, nevertheless, make perfect sense to the undergraduate choosing them.
Ed Kenny, 21, is a senior from Chicago majoring in what he chooses to call "leadership for peace" as well as government and politics, both of which prepare him, he believes, for graduate study in public policy.
"The amount of credits needed to graduate are the same whether you have a single or double major," Mr. Kenny points out, saying the electives he chose in earlier years "were on this leadership track." His courses have included studies in group behavior and the politics of identity.
Whatever the reason, the trend definitely is "student driven," says Donald Lehman, vice president for academic affairs at George Washington University, who adds, "It get pushed by students and then faculty start to pay attention."
The institution more than two years ago began encouraging double majors across the various schools that make up the university structure. This would allow dual majors in engineering and the arts and sciences, for example.
"The hurdle we got over is not having to duplicate core requirements in each," he says. "It's a challenge, because it means giving up some electives in order to fit everything in.
"We are strongly encouraging it because we know this has become a multidisciplinary world," Mr. Lehman says. "And starting this fall, we are doing something exciting taking a broad engineering major with a second major in education so the student will be qualified to teach from first grade through high school."
American University encourages dual majors of a special kind through a grouping of courses called the Honors Colloquia, whereby the same course can be used in multiple majors for 15 percent of the honors students, explains Michael Mass, head of the University Honors Program, who describes the colloquia as "brazenly interdisciplinary. Sometimes there are no texts."
This can lead to a double major in artificial intelligence and psychology, or literature and biology a freer range than what is available to the normal undergraduate.
Otherwise, a dual major "can cut both ways," he says. "It can be a way to get your ticket punched again and a way to hedge if a person isn't good enough or well-liked."

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