No more triple majors, please: College kids should cut course loads

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Current college fad: racking up double, triple, and even quadruple majors in order to impress future employers. This strategy is wrought with irony because, in effect, someone who has a triple major screams, “Don't hire me. I'll be a management disaster!”

My advice to all you triple majors is to dump the excessive course load and get a life. If you want to impress employers, use college as a time to demonstrate creativity, curiosity, quick learning and good social skills. Here's why:

A triple major exhibits no creativity. The most creative act is to choose a path for your life. College is an early opportunity to decide what you want to do with yourself, one course at a time. Cramming your schedule full of required courses for two or three majors is a rejection of creativity; in effect, you allow someone else to dictate your path for four years. Business visionaries set paths to goals that other people could never have thought of. Practice being a visionary in college by choosing a path no one else could choose.

A triple major is not for the intellectually curious. If you love learning then you will take whatever classes you want and you don't worry if they add up to another major. People who need their courses to add up to another major are people who are conditioned to learn only for an external reward. Employers need people who will be curious even after the grading system is over. In college learn for learning's sake, not for the department head's approval.

A triple major is for the timid. A broad education teaches you to learn diverse topics quickly. Practice learning something totally new by taking courses in each of the departments in your college rather than cowering in the safety of topics you're majoring in. Business requires a wide breadth of knowledge — writing, finance, technology, psychology, sociology. You can't learn every idea in school, but you can learn to pick up new ideas quickly.

Once you're committed to choosing just one major, stay away from business. In college you need to learn how to think broadly and critically. How you think is much more important than if you know how to map a brand strategy. You have your whole life to study business; college is your time for Shakespeare, Schopenhauer, and science experiments. In this new era of downtrodden, low-key CEOs, one CEO stands out for her star power: Carly Fiorina. And guess what her major was? English.

Finally, take some blow-off courses. You need time to develop social skills, because when it comes to business they cannot be stressed enough. Go to parties and make conversation with someone you didn't think you liked. Figure out how to like something about that person, because that's an important part of management— figuring out how to like even the most unlikable people. And stop by your professor's office hours. Don't have something to say? Make something up. Because that's what life will be like with your boss. Face time will be everything and you'll have to be savvy and strategic about how to get yourself in front of him and make him enjoy talking to you.

Learn how to make people like you. The smartest are not promoted. The most likeable are promoted. Dump the extra majors and use college as a time to learn about yourself. The more you understand yourself the better you will be able to relate to other people. That's what will really help you to succeed in business.

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  1. Jake
    Jake says:

    Can’t say I agree. For example, if you’re someone like myself who is interested in international human rights & bioethics, it makes quite a bit of sense to triple major in International Relations, Political Science and Philosophy. “A triple major is not for the intellectually curious.” ? What kind of generalization is that ? I hope no one pays you for your services.

    • Cecelia
      Cecelia says:

      I agree with this comment wholeheartedly. I’m currently pursuing two majors with a minor, and I feel like, more than anything, it’s allowed me to be more creative and hands-on with my education. On top of that, the whole situation boils down to me being entirely too intellectually curious in the first place.

      • Linnea
        Linnea says:

        I don’t agree with you, to be honest. I know I am going to have to study a lot, but I’m working on a triple major. Initially, I was going to dual major: Mathematics and Computer Information Systems (I want to be a programmer or a software designer). The reason I added a third is because it only took three additional classes. A computer science major is basically the cross of my other two, and I had to add three CSC classes to make it happen. I want to be the best at what I do, and I want an in-depth knowledge of what I am doing. That’s the reason for my choice. It’s not to impress department heads or future employers. I just want to do what I love and do it in the best manner possible.

    • Rick
      Rick says:

      Absolutely correct Jake, you hit the mark 100% with that reply. I am a triple major (economics, political science, and international relations) I like all those subjects and I want to have expertise in them. Its hard to prove that you know about certain subjects without that “paper” behind you so have multiple degrees saves you time and your employer because they can expect a certain level of knowledge just for the fact that you have that much “paper”
      behind you. Mind you, “paper” isnt everything, as some people would assume it is, but to say that it is worthless, in any quantity is a gross over exaggeration. I like having three degrees.I like the fact that I have learned much and can actually show it with “paper”. IT was totally worth it because I can draw lines of relationship between hundreds of issues that I otherwise would not have with just ONE ‘paper’ and the expertise associated with that ONE “paper”. Those who actually make history dont just have one job title or specialty, they are those who picked a variety of talents to develop and the CREDENTIALS TO BACK THEM UP, in other words : JAKE you are correct because degrees are counted as CREDENTIALS and the AUTHOR of the above article should seriously re-evaluate his conclusions on this subject.

  2. Evita
    Evita says:

    Some people triple major because one subject is related to the other. I attend 2 online schools (some courses have nothing to do with each other) and go to an on-ground school. I don’t double, (or triple) major because I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I do it because I know EXACTLY what i want to do. I’m not trying to get HIRED by some company. I’m starting my own. That’s why I triple major.

  3. Rei Vilo
    Rei Vilo says:

    Although it is true that some employers are relunctant from hiring students with triple or quadruple majors, there is still a handfull of companies that would kill to have someone master three different disciplines related to their project. Furthermore, a lot of your claims sound like a blatant attack to people with triple majors. Do you have something against them? Your rational behind the claim that triple majors are for the timid is weakly supported by your own generalizations and fallacious reasoning.

    I am going to have to agree with Jake here and hope you don’t get paid for your services.

  4. Cody
    Cody says:

    All your arguements are severely weak and generally nonsensical. I am a tripple major: English, Philosophy, Psychology. I, as well, am going to major in History and Art History–this is generally easy to do when all one’s interests are within the college of Letters, Arts, and S.Sc. Majoring this way is something I have never regretted. Sure, there are social losses, but if you smoke a lot fo pot and are naturally more introverted–well, you can muster on through it. Not only have I been exposed to many very interesting fields–in a structured way that ensures I am getting a fully overview of the disciple–but I feel that I have sufficiently justified the huge waste of time and money that is college. So, what I’m saying then is that: You Are Wrong!

  5. jackAttack
    jackAttack says:

    I’m not a triple major but I also think your arguments are weak at best. Your article appears to be more of a bashing of triple majors than a clear reasoning for future students shouldn’t do it. You label yourself a “careerist”- perhaps you are jealous of the potential advantage triple majors have in securing competitive careers? I don’t reall know.

    Learn to write with an objective viewpoint or nobody will give your opinions much merit.

    * * * * * *

    Hi. This is not obejective writing. All the posts are my opinions.


    • valerie
      valerie says:

      What is your credibility on this subject? Were you a double or triple major? You might want to do a little research or creative thinking yourself before bashing a broad range of people…..also, maybe you should have talked to more people yourself when you were in college, perhaps double or triple majors, before publishing an ignorant, malicious assumption on their motives. BTW majors have less to do with having little free time than course loads do….P.S. nobody knows who Carly Fiorina is without having to look her up……smh

    • valerie
      valerie says:

      What is your credibility on this subject? Were you a double or triple major? You might want to do a little research or creative thinking yourself before bashing a broad range of people…..also, maybe you should have talked to more people yourself when you were in college, perhaps double or triple majors, before publishing an ignorant, malicious assumption on their motives. BTW majors have less to do with having little free time than course loads do….P.S. just because you and I know who Carly Fiorina is, doesn’t mean others do without having to look her up, just a tip next time your writing to any audience. Did you ever learn during your time at college (assumption that you have a higher education) that you should always write like your writing to an audience who doesnt know anything about your topic? It doesnt take a triple major, dual major or degree to know that…..smh

  6. Girly24
    Girly24 says:

    I am triple majoring in sociology/anthropology/philosophy. I have decided to do this because I want to write books about metaphysics and there is not a degree offered in that area of research and it is hard to be considered credible. I hope that these areas of study will not only add to my credibility, but will challenge my ideas and raise my own standards so that I may truly be an inspired writer. Before I made this decision I wrote and produced my own original musicals, something that takes a lot of creativity. How dose your rant apply to me?

    * * * * * *

    Hi, Helene. I applaud your interest in writing a book. I wish you a lot of success.

    However the way my rant applies to you is that a book agent doesn’t care what your undergraduate major was when you are trying to get a book deal. It’s totally irrelevant. An undergraduate major gives you scant credentials in that field in the real world. I’m sure you do not need to be a triple major in order to have high standards and be inspired. This comes from inside. People have this with one major. This is a great example of misguided reasons to triple major.


  7. Girly24
    Girly24 says:

    I don’t just want to write a book, I want to communicate my ideas with as many people as possible and though I am sure I will have to answer to agents and publishers, I am more interested in what the people who read me think and what I think. I am planning on attending graduate school. I think it’s funny that you assumed I was not.

    I think that anyone who wants to study hard and acquire degrees in more than one area should get advice from someone they trust who knows them and not from a columnist who thinks they have all the answers.

  8. B
    B says:

    I think that in some cases you might be correct. Too often people are just looking for that extra line on their resume by getting multiple degrees in a related field. However, I am in my third year of college and have decided to go forward with a triple major. It will only require one extra year of study and I feel that it will better prepare me for the field of international business. My degrees of choice are Economics, French and Spanish. While I think that in some cases you do point to some real issues that come to mind with people who triple major, you neglect the possible benefits for a number of people by making such a broad statement. Nonetheless, this is an interesting post.

    * * * * * * *

    This is another good example of someone who should not be doing a triple major.

    An undergraduate degree in economics prepares you for very little in business. For examle, if you want to go into investment banking, all you need to do is pass the tests to get an internship, you don’t even need the economics major, per se. And we could all go on and on forever about the people who are successful in business with no background whatsoever in economics.

    So, for the sake of argument, I will assume this person is staying in school for French or Spanish. Hot tip: If you need a language for business, go to Berlitz for three months. This is what executives do. It’s a much more effective way to learn to speak a language than going to college. College teaches you about the literature around the language, about the history of the language, etc. All intresting stuff, but not necessary for doing well in the workforce.

    That this person is staying another full year in college in order to triple major is amazing to me. This does not strike me as the best use of time or money.

    For those of you who are thinking, “But what about the love of learning? What if this person just wants to stay in school to learn?”

    Here’s my answer: Let’s put aside, for a minute, the problem that staying in school like this is a way to avoid the transition to adult life. Instead, think about the love of learning part. Undergraduate life teaches you ways of thinking. It does not teach you to be an expert in anything. So to do extra years learning to think when you have already had four is redundant. If you want to learn something new, become an expert in something by going to grad school.

    Not that I think a Ph.d is a financially sound idea, but if you don’t need to earn money, and you don’t want to stop going to school, it’s better than doing extra years as an undergrad.



  9. Zach
    Zach says:

    A lot of triple majors are relevant, and useful. I’m going to triple in political science, history, and religious studies. I’ll still be able to graduate in 4 years because i’m staying under the max courseload. With that, it’d be foolish of me not to if I can.

  10. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    I have BA and a MA bussiness, Accounting and Finance, as well as take many post graduate classes, It had very helpful to me

  11. stacy
    stacy says:

    while growing up and in college is also learned to play harp and violin, and Irish dancing. I hope no one foolish enough to pay for your advice.

    • R.J. Frates
      R.J. Frates says:

      I hate to say it, but for someone who supposedly triple-majored as an undergraduate student: (then went on to get a Masters Degree no less)
      I would’ve thought you would have learned to write a complete sentence without multiple spelling errors and missing or mixed-up words in it by now!
      It’s like grading a 4th grade writing assignment on what you want to be when you grow up, but not being able to understand the student’s answer because they tried to sound precocious by using a thesaurus to substitute “big words” for their own. In the process of writing their paper, they got so bogged down with trying to sound intellectually advanced, that they didn’t bother to ensure they used the correct “big words”, and worse, used them in all the wrong contexts!
      Inevitably, they succeed only in sabbotaging their assignment by ensuring they end up with a paper that is so full of obviously erroneous sentences, that non of them add up to a single paragraph of intelligible communication!
      If you truly are the college educated, post graduate that you claimed you are, I’m going to have to think that you never wrote any of your papers thru all those years of college without the aid of spell check & grammer check!
      Do get me wrong: That’s fine too because these days all that stuff is done automatically for us by means of the software we use to write our papers with. And who has the time in the day to do it ourselves and still have any social life, am I right?
      “Like, Totally!”
      No, but seriously, it is a lot of work to spell check & learn to be gramatically correct at the same time.
      So, its ok to be in the habit of having it done automatically for us by the Word Processing Applications we use…just don’t try to write an argument about the smart thing to do for ourselves in an advice columb without using auto-pilot to fix it up before publishing! Because, those giving us advice can only be trusted and found credible if said advice sounds like it’s coming from someone intellectually worthy of giving it!
      P.S. THANKS!

  12. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I’m double majoring in art and computer science. I know exactly where I want to work (a specific computer animation company in Hollywood) and to do a good job there, both of which will be very helpful. I was also advised to take all the math classes I could and so, I’m taking all the math classes I can. This has led me to consider a math major as well, and since I’m going to be taking the classes anyway, why not get that extra degree (it won’t have any other core req. since it’s the same college). As for the love of learning you cite, I know that with some universities, you aren’t allowed to take the really fun classes unless you are that major. So with art, I decided that the only way I was going to get to take the art classes that I needed and wanted, I would have to deal with a few semesters of spanish. As for a social life, I took 19 credits last semester, my second semester in college, and I did fine. I had more of a social life than I did my first semester, with 12 credits. I realize that your arguments apply mostly to people who want to go into the managerial/business aspect instead of the creative side of things, but you still should not discount triple and double majors like that.

  13. ...........
    ........... says:

    Your obviously very materalistic if you view it that way. I would just like to learn to learn, because I’m a curious person. So stop discuraging people to learn. And who in the world is someone who triple majors not creative. The more you know the more you can make is the way i see it. Your subconsious will give your creative ideas based on the things that you know. It combines them, rearanges them and gives a diffrent way to do something.
    (Yes, and I know it is packed full of spelling and gramatical errors.)

    • R.U.Serious
      R.U.Serious says:

      Clearly this ‘Penelope’ chick has an ego the size of the moon, and that little chip on her shoulder compels her to impart upon us readers what she misguidedly perceives as “wisdom.”

      In actuality, this lowly columnist writer wants everyone to aim as low as she did. You’re seriously going to listen to this snake twist logic around and make it sound like your triple major is going to fare worse than her double (or *gasp* single?) major? I guarantee you this washout journalist has had no personal experience with working incredibly hard for the pure sake of learning to get a triple major. I repeat: This journalist has no experience with working towards or possessing a triple major. What makes her think she has anything to say on the topic?

      She’s spiteful, jealous, and vengeful. A creature living off of her base instincts because she lacks the creativity and ingenuity to manipulate and shape the culture to her needs and aspirations. Rather, she IS THE ONE SHAPED by the culture itself. She is at the mercy of double and tripled majors.

      if she hasn’t learned anything by this age in her life, you’d think it would be when the appropriate time is to keep her mouth shut. But of course she spews ridiculous ideas off of this enabling web site.

      Go ahead and enable people to be mediocre if you want, Penelope. Clearly all of the above comments see right through your trashy, tasteless journalist-logic.

  14. Jim
    Jim says:

    I agree that 2+ majors are usually a terribly inefficient use of of time, money and effort, at least in terms of career. No job description ever written has a double major as a requirement. Don’t they still have things called “minors”? I graduated in three years with a major in math/computer science and a minor in music. The former was work, the latter was the time of my life. Stay another year, or even a semester, to get a music major instead? Utterly pointless. Need to be a major to get into a couple classes? Declare the major, take the classes, then drop the major. Five minutes total of paperwork.

  15. Marcus
    Marcus says:

    I am proud graduate of Rice University having quadruple majored in Biology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Business, and Chemistry. After that I went to the MD/Ph.D program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

    Don’t crush the dreams of many aspiring students who just want to learn more. Anybody can do it.

    I graduated on time and hold a BS in Biology, BSBch in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, a BBA in Business, and BS in Chemistry as well as a Medical Doctor and a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

  16. May
    May says:

    Hi Marcus! This message is for you. I really want to triple major in psychology, engineering and computer science or architecture. However, everyone seems to discourage me. Also, With how things sounded, it seemed like you enjoyed what you did and I plan to do the same thing. Do you have any advice for someone like me who is aspiring to do what I have in mind?

  17. Alex K
    Alex K says:

    Sorry, Trunk. People who triple major aren’t “conditioned to want something for learning.” They’re conditioned to want something for shelling out $100,000. I love to learn, but I’m not paying $100,000 for one degree when I could get three.

  18. ahm
    ahm says:

    Hello Penelope, you have a beautiful smile. I am a quadruple major in quantitative fields: Com Science, Physics, Math and Econ.

    In addition to that, I am the President of Toastmasters Club(Public-Speaking Club) and Vice President of Student Association. I run 2 business ventures as well.

    I dont think I would be a management disaster. I think that your post is offensive to many people. Instead of making them agree with you,you actually offend them.

  19. Rob S
    Rob S says:

    I have to say that your arguements a very unconvincing. I graduated with a triple major so my opinion may be slightly bias, but I think its very clear that yours are very bias. I applaud you for starting controversy because your article would undoubtedly recieve no attention without it, but before you give advice urging students to lower their goals and take “blow-off courses”; try to keep in mind that you can’t “blow-off” the college loan you took out for those wasted classes.
    Obviously I do agree that college is an important time to strengthen the interpersonal skills you’ll need when you graduate, but throughout your career you will have to balance your social life while still managing to accomplish your own goals. In attempting a triple major someone is not choosing to pass on their social developement, but rather choosing to put extra effort into balancing it. Persuing a triple major is not easy. Having said that I think its fair to assume that their has to be sincere interest in all three subjects for you to successfully complete it.
    I recieved a triple major in Communication, Media Study and Psychology. I started as a Double major in Communication and Media study. In my second to last semester my advisor informed me that I was only a couple classes from completing a Psychology major, so I simply added them to my last semester. And yes, my last semester was tough, but I made plenty of time for my friends and in the end; I think my senior year was my most successful and enjoyable.

  20. Michaela Spangenburg
    Michaela Spangenburg says:

    Not only are your arguements weak, but it is clear from your use of intolerant and insulting language that you feel insecure about your own intelligence and feel intimidated by people who ARE creative and intelligent enough to have three majors. I myself am working towards a triple major in English, Psychology, and Anthropology. I am working on specific concentrations in all three majors (creative writing, clinical psychology and cultural anthropology) and intend to one day earn at least one MA and go to graduate school. I am extremely curious creative and intelligent and in addition I am also independent and ambitious. I desperately love all three subject matters and I feel that through this program of study I will be enriched as a person. My focus is self fulfilment, not impressing employers, and I feel sorry for anyone who wastes their precious education on something as meaningless as impressing others.

    I hope that whatever students who happen upon this page and read your idiotic attack on people more original and intelligent than yourself have the good sense to scroll down and see what real people without convoluted agendas have to say about this so called “advice”.

  21. Craig
    Craig says:

    Everyone hates this nag, especially college students, but seriously: Learn how to spell. Yes, in the real world it really does matter. Each error lowers your credibility in the eye of the reader. Fair or not, it’s true.

    To the point, Penelope’s rant is needlessly provocative, and her specific assertions are questionable at best. But her fundamental point is valid. Triple majors do not help you in the job market. The dissenters make the oblique argument that college isn’t about getting a job. But unless your family is independently wealthy, it had better be.

    • R.U.Serious
      R.U.Serious says:

      To hell with our job market. To hell with our banks, to hell with the price of tuition, to hell with our politicians, and to HELL with our transnational corporations.

      I’m going to do what makes me happy and get a triple major.

  22. jojo
    jojo says:

    Ive never seen a school that would let a person triple major…but if you do have excess hours to burn, why not?
    we live in a information-knowledge based culture/society…

  23. loly-rox
    loly-rox says:

    wow i have to agree with like 99% of your comments. not every one has to focus on one major, im working on law, fashion design, AND music thses are things that i love and cannot live without. and guess what? im NOT timid or uncreative. these are not the only things that i exccel in. i can sculpt, paint, cook, decorate cakes, design webpages, i both write music and play the cello, piano, bass guitar, and drums, and racked up alot of sience credits.
    im not trying to say that you opinion is completely wrong there are people who just talk alot of classes so they can look good yet enjoy none of thier college life. a majority of your readers seem to agree that you points are weak and cannt be backed up. however that is just your opinnion and they cant judge you by what you bealive to be true.

  24. Justin
    Justin says:

    Brilliant post, Penelope.

    I’m in my final year of a joint degree in Anthropology / International Relations. But, because I’m in the UK, this is only going to take me three years, and – although the structure of my degree means that I get the opportunity to study two subjects in my final year – it does mean that I’ll have sacrificed the opportunity to take free modules in the last two years.

    If I was in the US, I’d definitely have pursued a single major, supplemented with a bunch of courses that interested me on the basis of their own merit.

    At the end of the day, I think the other commenters (is that even a word?) are missing the point that, at the end of the day, disciplinary boundaries aren’t ‘real’. As long as you can find a way of justifying it, you can find a way to study Shakespeare through the lens of History, Creative Writing, or Film. Mafia activities? Political Economy, Russian, or Criminology. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis? Economics, Journalism, or Anthropology. And so on.

    It’s hard to snap yourself out of the success/faliure worldview of High School, but – when it comes to college – it’s about choices, and opportunity cost. And the only person you have to answer to is yourself (and your parents, if you want to follow Ryan’s advice and move home after graduation!).

  25. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Craig said it the best. And yea, triple majors are crazy, and no, i’m not considering a triple major anymore. Maybe a minor. And besides all this, not every school is expensive. I’m lucky enough that I go to a cheap (not very prestigious) school and my parents have saved up for my education. Two extra classes for another major aren’t exactly going to set me back. Consider them my ‘blow-off courses’.

    And by the way, I’m not sure Carly is a very good example of a wonderful CEO.

  26. mr. t
    mr. t says:

    I just want more degrees than my classmates at graduation just for the sake of doing more. Plus, school isn’t really hard at the undergrad level, so I’d pretty much be a lazy asshole if I didn’t grab as many degrees as I could while I’m here.

  27. Alan
    Alan says:

    I am an undergrad in Florida State who will soon be transferring to the University of Florida. I am only in my second semester of my first year but am qualified as a junior according to my hours. I also participate in a panel that leads local and statewide events for Invisible Children. I help sponsor and mentor a NASA based high school international space settlement design competition stationed in Houston, TX with participating teams from Romania, India, Australia, Uruguay and Canada. I play trumpet and guitar. Soon I’ll be joining the marching band at UF and plan on starting my own space settlement design club. I’ve had a girlfriend for 2 and a half years, and am a level 45 Brigadier in Halo3 (meaning I play lots of video games). On top of this I graduated 10th in my high school class as VP of an engineering society, Treasurer of National Honor Society and member of Latin and Spanish Honors society. I know 2 languages and can pick up languages quickly. What I’m getting at is that I am on a course for quadruple majors in Physics, Astronomy, Mechanical and Aerospace engineering (with minors in Math and Chem)…I do this because I want to learn more, and specialize myself in many fields. You think that’s dumb? 4 personally known NASA rocket scientists/researchers confirmed with me that the more I know of those fields, the better. If my future employer tells me they love to see those things, I think it’s a good idea. Also, and lastly, your claims are horrible. Your argument is weak, and you overgeneralize. I intend on taking those 4 majors and cutting them down into 2 Masters in Aerospace/Mechanical engineering and astrophysics. I’ll write back to you once I’m directing the research facilities at AMES Research Center. It’s good to have high ambitions…the harder you work the better the payoff.

  28. Matt
    Matt says:

    sociology, economics and psychology at the university of delaware. i’m doing that because i have an incredible interest in all three of them. plus, there is certainly a few overlaps here and there. socioeconomics is one of my career options, among many other fields. people attempt more than one major to have as many options as possible. life is about options. think about that next time before you write another article that makes little sense.

  29. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    I can see Penelope’s arguments being valid in some cases – such as business degrees – but many of the science fields require that you have quite a bit of knowledge of other science disciplines. Someone who just says, “I’m going to be a biology major, take a bunch of blow off courses, and mainly focus on one major so i can impress employers” is often going to have a harder in that field than someone who majors in business and wants to get out into the field.

    Take biology for example – this field often requires that the individual has some knowledge of physics, chemistry, etc. Most science students aspire to going into research and medicine, which requires a vast knowledge of science related topics. I feel for the most part, your whole post mainly pertains to those going into the business field – I mean, references to management problems, etc – while there is significant oversight for scientific ventures, most people going in those fields NEED a lot of education. Last thing anyone wants is someone working on a cure for aids or cancer who just got 1 degree and took a bunch of blow off courses.

    Creativity is important, but I feel for certain fields, you need a base that your creativity can spring from. I mean, how many people have heard of the person who only had a high school education and started some successful business? I’m sure there are plenty of stories out there – but on the other side of the coin, how many people have heard of the person who just took blow off courses and focused on getting out of school and trying to impress employers, within the science field – going into research and becoming doctors? Would you want this kind of doctor operating on you?

  30. Jaysen
    Jaysen says:

    All I can say is wow. New Zealand’s Universities sure operate a lot differently to colleges, it seems. Im currently in my third year of a Linguistics and Philosophy double major, and I was looking to get advice on taking a triple major. They are seriously almost unheard of here in New Zealand. I have only a few ideas as to why.

    Firstly, I hear you can take multiple majors in a field and have them crosscredit eachother. This is not possible, at least at my University (Otago). As it stands, my double major requires a heck of a lot of extra work to gain, and adding a third major is just going to be an insane amount of work.

    Secondly, although related, some people have suggested reducing majors to minors and have them crosscredit eachother. Again, this isnt possible here. It’s actually quite stupid, really. It is not actually possible in a single undergrad degree to take Linguistics as a major, and TESOL as a minor, due to this “no crosscreditting of papers across majors and/or minors” rule. Its a real shame, and quite possibly a flawed system in some people’s eyes, but my main reason for ranting about this is to say that at least here, a triple major is considered prestigious. Theres simply no question about it. Taking three majors is a hell of a lot of work, and graduates of triple majors (of which I know of -very- few) are absolutely praised for their hard work.

    I see some people talk of taking Quadruple majors. Wow, kudos to you all :) Thats an insane amount of effort you are putting into that degree, and I hope it takes you where you deserve to go – far. :)

    Anyway, just giving you an idea of my views on people who triple major. Im very very tempted to take up Japanese as a major, shift my linguistics major to a language and linguistics major, and keep my philosophy major. Its going to be tough; but itll be worth it :)

    /rant :)

  31. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Jaysen, I’m doing some research with a professor who taught at Otago for a couple of years and has a research project that’s half there, half here. I’m very interested in possibly going over there for a summer (your winter) to work on it. Here’s my email, I’d love to get in touch with someone who lives and goes to school there. If you ever see this comment, that is.


    cranberrytuna (at) hotmail (dot) com

  32. John
    John says:

    triple majors perhaps obsessive, however from a good school (as in top 100 universities), double majors with minors or even triple majors get the big jobs in business. Even more double / triple major with good extra circulars blow any single major out of the water.

    your argument like stated above is weak at best, and you were probably one of the kids who was undecided until their junior year, spending all your parents money because you could not decide what you wanted in live. so leave these ambitious kids alone and stick to your day job

  33. Joseph
    Joseph says:

    I am not quite sure how you can say that a triple major is not a good idea if it what you want to do. I am triple majoring (in 4 years) in Math/Econ/Statistics, and I feel as though my degrees complement each other very well and provide more tha adequate preparation to go into the business world. Certainly moreso than a humanities degree, which is an area I find more enjoyable to learn about. Is there really a high demand in the business for someone who knows about the Roman Empire? I highly doubt it. Furthermore, my majors will allow me to take some grad classes in Econ, which would be undoable without a fair amount of quantitative skills. It also seems as though you are missing the point that someone who triple majors is quite motivated and able to see difficult challenges through. Instead you are saying those that do extraordinary things are really no different in the eyes of a possible employer than those who do ordinary things. I also have participated in research in all three areas so that kind of ruins the intellectually curious argument. Undergrad work is not really “deep,” the truly curious would explore graduate work not a handful of undergrad classes.

  34. Harumph
    Harumph says:

    I don’t agree at all. My majors overlapped and I was interested in all the courses I took. In fact, I only realized I was a triple major after looking at an application at school which told me I qualified for three majors if I took two specific classes. Sure, I could have taken something cooler than those two classes, but I’m still doing that. What if we’re not just interested in one major. Get a life?! Anti-intellectualism at its worst.

  35. Anna
    Anna says:

    In college, you learn for learning’s sake, sure–but you’re also PAYING for the degree, essentially. In many disciplines, there are a multitude of other, less expensive ways to get the education and training necessary than enrolling in an undergraduate program. Going to a less prestigious college, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have less fewer resources and a lower quality of education, but the difference in tuition prices can be phenomenal. Is it for learning’s sake when you put down tens of thousands of extra dollars to go to a good-name school with a strong alumni association? Some students may find it sensible to make the most of their time there–they’re on a time line and a budget. A lot of students struggle enormously to pay tuition fees–why major in one discipline if they’re torn between two or three? Or, in some cases, a student’s career goals may benefit from certification in different majors.

    More importantly, being an undergraduate college student, for many people, is about discovering your interests and shaping your view of the world. Not all college students know exactly what they want to do at 18, 19, 20, 21, but they want to get the most out of the time they spend there by making an educated prediction of what would be most beneficial to them. If someone wants to explore many entirely dissimilar fields and are ambitious enough to be invested in them all, who the hell are you to say they lack CURIOSITY, of all things you could accuse them of? If someone is going to invest the extra work, who are you to say they’re timid? Why do you give a damn, anyway–did you not have the capacity to complete a triple major? I don’t see what the motivation or benefit of this article would be, for anyone.

    You are one overpaid sucker.

  36. Anna
    Anna says:

    And get your damn facts straight about Carly Fiorna. Like Trevor said, she was a double major herself. So much for supporting your point.

  37. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    I am a triple-major in philosophy, history and political science, and find your reasoning to be completely fallacious, unwarranted, and void of reason all together. You make broad generalizations about the motivations of individuals who triple-major, and your intolerance towards majoring in extra fields of study shows, if anything your “timidity and lack of intellectual curiosity”, the supposed message against the triple-majors.

    An extra major is an extra opportunity. When I’m done with undergraduate school, I will have the option of studying law or going to grad. school as a means to get a PhD (in any of the fields I enjoy, for that matter)and become a professor. But I suppose I’m timid and lack intellectual curiosity, eh?

    I have studied Schopenhauer, (the world as will and representation, Wisdom of Life, etc) and to compare the message of Schopenhauer to what you are saying is hilarious. Perhaps YOU should read Schopenhauer instead of skim to the letter S in the dictionary and pick out three things that you felt would be intellectually poignant? (science, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer)

  38. Rapid
    Rapid says:

    Your arguments are weak.

    Firstly, it is not a fad where I come from. I never heard of a triple major before deciding to do one, and conjured the notion up as a result of profound interest in all three disciplines.

    Therefore I’m a living and breathing example of how you state that triple majors are not creative–I’m creative enough to pursue something that I never heard of!

    Triple major is not for the intellectually curious? Give me a break. The very idea of a triple major is inherintly creative. This creativity extends to the fact that triple major students demonstrate how to get the best out of their money and time while learning broadly: that is to say, recieving extra credentials (a godsend for graduate school) while studying broadly–not just taking tiny bits and forgetting. In this way…triple majors ARE entrepreneurs!

    Triple major is for the timid? You make no argument in this paragraph, so I see that you needed to express something derogatory to compensate for your intellectual insecurities.

    Penelope, you’re encouraging a new generation blockheaded, low-budget lawyer-like car salesmen, instead of intelligent individuals who know how to manage their time well and pursue their dreams (thank goodness your blog isn’t that popular, hence I use the term ‘encouraging a new generation’ extremely lightly).

  39. John
    John says:

    Dear Penelope,
    I will be pursuing a quadruple major but my desire certainly does not stem from any sort of deficit in curiosity. Rather, if I do a single major, I would only be alowed to take seven extra classes. Whereas if I follow the path that I am on I can take….well, forty extra classes. After that I am off to law school. I don’t care about business, and am not particular interested in making large amounts of money in an ever more competitive job market. I am a writer and I plan to work with human rights. Likely at the Hague. So keep your intellectually shallow rants to yourselves. Some people are motivated by an intense desire simply to know. I never once thought of how it would look to future employers until I found your blog.

  40. inquiring student
    inquiring student says:

    Anyone who did a triple major or triple degree as well as quadruple or quintuple degree or quadruple or quintuple degree please write again and mention in detail the university and the dept and website and contact name who allowed this since many students may be interested and only some advisors and some majors and some depts and some universities allow it and some college tuition structures allow it. If this is what someone really wants then they need to go to the schools that not only allow it but will have the necessary tuition, curriculum and other program structures to encourage and allow multiple majors and degrees beyond double degrees.

    To the author your advice is 100% garbage and people should do the opposite of what you said in the article and book. How many college advisors signed a legal document confirming they agree with you?

    Email –

  41. Tania
    Tania says:

    I completely agree with this article. It’s ironic that the comments posted trying to contradict the article actually help make it’s point.

    Good luck in the real world guys..

  42. Ali
    Ali says:

    I agree with this article as well. Maybe I was spoiled by a liberal arts school but I knew from the outset that I was going to school to refine my analytical and thinking skills. I am a recent college grad who has worked in advertising and PR and now I manage a chocolate company.

    I think the point Penelope makes is that yes, you ultimately have to major in something but people learn as much in the classroom as outside of it socializing and engaging in extracurricular activities.

    People are too eager to rack up degrees like they are notches on your belt. What’s more important to a potential employer is your maturity of judgment and ability to do your job and do it well.

    Take this situation for example. An employer is choosing between two job applicants, Bob and Jan for an entry-level position in an advertising firm straight out of college. Bob majored in business, communication and Spanish hoping to give him an edge. Jan, on the other hand, only majored in English but had an advertising internship and great recommendations. The advertising internship is more impressive hands down. In a job market flooded with people with all sorts of degrees, the people who stand above are those with practical experience and people skills.

    If you are generally interested in a subject and want to major in it then go for it. But just remember there’s more to college than just getting good grades. Time is a scarce resource and you can only do so much. Learning to work with different kinds of people is just as important as the coursework.

    For the record, I totally agree that language degrees don’t seem to be very useful unless supplemented with immersion (like studying abroad). I have 3 friends with Spanish degrees and none of them are fluent. Unless you get your kicks from writing papers about Chicana literature in Spanish… then more power to you.

    • Aaron Long
      Aaron Long says:

      Your example is horribly biased. Who’s to say that Bob wouldn’t have good recommendations also? In addition to that, I’m sure many people who do more than one major also do internships and the like. Majoring in more than one thing does not imply, on any level, some sort of allergic-to-the-sun person that sits in some gloomy, cave-like basement pouring over books.

      Some people do have the intellectual capability to learn more than one thing at a time and to “have a life.”

    • Allea
      Allea says:

      It may be true for some people that they are more at home with books than with other people. That WOULD be a poor reason for triple-majoring.

      However, people can still have a social life with a triple major, can still join clubs and be involved in the community. Hell, we’re gonna be busy, but most of us are young and active!

      I understand that having some experience in the liberal arts is a wonderful boon for people to have, however, one does not actually need to take expensive classes to learn some to supplement their education, since there are always chances at a university to take part in book readings and political protests (and if anyone else is anything like me, they will have puddled around the arts department for two years ‘finding themselves’ :P).

      If someone STILL does not engage themselves in the liberal arts, then let them be. There are many ambitious scientists who at first dismissed anything non-scientific, only to find that as they got older and matured, they found the beauty of history, fine arts and music. Cajoling someone into a classroom won’t force them to learn much, if they do not come to that class wanting to understand.

  43. craigf
    craigf says:

    College is an investment, and a business. Why would someone not get the full rewards out of an investment if you are going to be there for 4 years anyway. And in terms of expanding one’s social life drinking, partying and hanging out with friends can be done while not in college. All you need to do is meet new people, college should not be someone’s only shot at making contacts. To discourage people from triple majoring when they enjoy it and willing to do it is ludicrous. You can’t tell people it is bad when they are ultimately investing 4 years of there life, it would be stupid to not utilize it to its fullest potential.
    Also if the knowledge they gain remotely helps people in their jobs their employers will be able to utilize them more. Being an employer myself I know because companies spend millions on employee development and someone who doesn’t need it is more valuable to me.

  44. nopanicgoorganic
    nopanicgoorganic says:

    I am a quadruple major from Hawaii (pending a petition to my college) in American Studies, Womens Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Religion.

  45. Babak
    Babak says:

    what a fallacy! Well I hope you yourself are satisfied and convinced with your type of critical thinking and academical analysis! not me :)

    A junior student in Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Applied Math as well as Computer Science… not for impressing the employers but for what I have so much passion for and what I am going to do in graduate school

  46. Maria
    Maria says:

    I think triple majors are fine depending, of course, on the majors. I know a woman who majored in English, Music, and Education and secured a teaching job over other, and by the standards of some people on here, more qualified, candidates. While the other teachers had years of experience, they were looking for both an English and Music teacher at the time, so my friend got the job.

  47. Michaela Spangenburg
    Michaela Spangenburg says:

    Just thought I’d comment again, since the situation educationally has changed a bit. Now in CA it is nearly impossible to go back to school for a second BA or BS at a public school. Literally, most schools are just not even looking at or accepting applications for such with the way the economy is going. I know a fair amount of people who majored in one subject, started a career in it and then realized that they either wanted to do something else or that in this economy they can’t make money in the area they had studied in, and are now stuck because they can’t go back and get the education for another career. Really unfortunate, but a good reason to double or triple major if you already have the inclination to do so.

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