Why do you want to double-major? Is it worth it?
This is the first question anyone considering double-majoring needs to ask themselves.
I knew I wanted to work with computers after switching high schools in tenth grade. I actually remember the moment where I was like, “wow, I know what to do for the rest of my life,” and I wrote about it in my Common Application essay.
In short, I took a robotics course and fell in love with computers. Then, I turned to the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community to learn more challenging skills. The FOSS community taught me how to program, understand operating systems, and experiment with malware. Eventually, I was able to narrow down my love for computing: programming and Linux. I found that I could work with both things in secure coding, which is a combination of Computing Security (SEC) and Computer Science (CS).
Since Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has one of the best undergraduate SEC programs in the United States, RIT was already on my radar. RIT has a great CS program too. Additionally, RIT has the only FOSS program in the United States.
Thus, I knew coming into RIT that I wanted to double-major. RIT was the perfect fit for me. I could accomplish everything I wanted—double-major and learn about FOSS—at RIT.
However, a lot of students want to specialize in SEC and CS. Why don’t all students double-major? I think double-majoring makes sense in most scenarios; you learn more, you are guaranteed a higher salary, and it sets you up for graduate programs.
RIT’s SEC program offers a software security specialization. Students specializing in software security take a few advanced electives (approximately <= 6) before graduation. However, I did not think this would prepare me for a career in secure coding.
Both of my mentors—who have jobs in secure coding—deeply regret single-majoring. One majored in Information Technology and feels like he lacks the coding skills that CS majors in his department have. My other mentor majored in CS and feels like he lacks a good understanding of cybersecurity. In other words, both of my mentors feel like they lack the skills they did not major in. As a result, I want to learn from their mistakes and double-major.
🌸👋🏻 Let’s take this to your inbox. You’ll receive occasional emails about whatever’s on my mind—offensive security, open source, academics, boats, software freedom, you get the idea.
I researched double-major salary statistics before I decided to double-major. Research shows that double-majoring pairs—STEM/Humanities, STEM/STEM and STEM/Business—increase salaries on average (Makridisat). However, the average increase is only a few thousand dollars.
Sources and further reading
- Does it pay to get a double-major in college? by Christos A. Makridis at The Conversation.
- Double-Majors: Influences, Identities, and Impacts published by Vanderbilt University.
- Effects of a Double-Major on Post-Baccalaureate Outcomes published by MIT.
I also researched how double-majoring affects graduate school admissions and performance. From an admissions standpoint, double-majoring can indicate that a person is good at planning or has multiple interests and skills (Deresiewicz).
However, graduate schools do not necessarily prefer candidates that double-majored because they double-majored. The quality of their work, transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, etc. need to be on par too (Mumby).
Another thing to consider is the field of the graduate school program. For example, most Spanish Master’s programs will not be wow-ed by my SEC/CS double-major. Additionally, some programs—like M.D.s—often require certain undergraduate coursework; so, you could be a triple major (CS/SEC/Mathematics) from Stanford, but still not be qualified for an M.D. program.
Since double-majoring in SEC/CS gives students more experience in the classroom, graduate SEC/CS courses are easier for double-majors to handle in comparison to students who did not take as many classes. In other words, students who take more SEC/CS classes will be more prepared for SEC/CS Master’s programs (Harper).
Thus, Computer Science and Cybersecurity Master’s programs may be impressed with SEC/CS double-major applicants.
Business and law schools
Unfortunately, I don’t know how business schools and law schools view STEM double-majors. However, I recently ordered a few books on Master’s of Business (MBA) admissions, so I may update this post once I read them.
Lastly, it is good to consider what type of graduate program it is (i.e., Ph.D., Master’s, J.D., M.D., etc.). This is because researched-focused programs like Ph.D.s will care more about your prior education. For example, Ph.D.s want candidates with the most educational experience in their field, so students already have a research background; that is, assuming they did research in school. However, research unaffiliated with institutions may come into consideration too (Mumby). Here, double-majors usually have preference over single-majors. Again, they still need to have good transcripts, recommendations, etc. (Mumby).
M.D. programs, on the other hand, cannot guarantee that all of their candidates have working experience in their desired field (i.e., OB-GYN or brain surgeon). This is because OB-GYNs and brain surgeons need to have an M.D. in order to practice. As a result, students should try to do specialized internships and research (Mumby).
Sources and further reading
- Deresiewicz, William. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. Simon & Schuster, 2015.
- Harper, Janice. How to Get Into Grad School: Even if You’re Broke, Dimwitted, or Spent Your Undergrad Years so Smashed You Can’t Even Spell GPA. 2nd ed., Back Door Press, 2012.
- Mumby, David G. Graduate School: Winning Strategies for Getting In. Proto P, 2012.
Financial aid, scholarships, and GPA warnings
I was most worried about how double-majoring could affect my financial aid. If my financial aid from RIT were to decrease, I would not be able to attend the school. Additionally, I apply to a lot of outside scholarships, and I need a good GPA in order to win them.
While I was applying to RIT’s SEC/CS double-major program, my advisors stressed that taking more than three SEC/CS classes a semester was not recommended. Apparently, GPAs tank when students take more than three SEC/CS classes in one semester. This information worried me, so I consulted some students double-majoring in STEM. They reinforced the idea of GPAs tanking. Two of the people I consulted almost got their financial aid revoked.
However, this did not stop me from double-majoring. I asked about students’ GPAs before and after double-majoring. I found that students who maintained a high GPA before double-majoring were able to maintain a relatively high GPA even after double-majoring, especially if they managed their STEM course load.
Ideal course load
According to my anecdotal research, the magic course load formula is to take fifteen credits per semester where twelve credits are SEC/CS and three credits are liberal arts electives. For reference, most classes are three credits, so the ideal schedule has a total of five classes per semester.
Although this schedule does not fit my advisors’ guidelines of three SEC/CS classes per semester, it ensures reasonable stress levels, freedom, and a normal graduation time.
After students finish their general education requirements, many double-majors will only need to take twelve credits per semester. All of which would be SEC/CS. However, I am choosing not to because RIT offers a lot of interesting electives.
Given all of the STEM double-major horror stories, I understand why students are scared of double-majors. I also understand that there are statistics demonstrating that students struggle when taking three+ SEC/CS classes.
Thus, I want to explain why I am not scared of double-majoring.
Example one concerns the Fall semester of my freshman year.
I did not have much programming experience entering RIT. As a result, my programming classes were very challenging for me. I spent around eighteen hours per week on homework for the SEC introductory programming sequence. No joke; I timed myself and made a spreadsheet.
I had a great professor and attended almost all of the office hours, yet I struggled on every assignment. Additionally, I had five other classes to deal with. However, I still earned a 4.0 GPA that semester, which shows students can handle the double-major curriculum as beginner programmers. My course load Fall semester freshman year:
|Software Development and Problem Solving I||SEC 123||4||A|
|Introduction to Cybersecurity||SEC 140||3||A|
|Calculus I||MATH 181A||4||A|
|Introduction to Philosophy||PHIL 101||3||A|
|Honors Explorations of Place & Space||ITDL 151H||3||A|
|Functional Yoga||WFIT 98||0||S|
Example two concerns the Spring semester of my freshman year.
I took twenty credits and two zero-credit courses. I also had a part-time job and was involved in extracurriculars. Again, I earned a 4.0 GPA, which shows I could handle my course load. I also was elected to two executive board positions (WiCyS and RITSEC), which shows I was able to regularly and meaningfully participate in extracurriculars. My course load Spring semester freshman year:
|Software Development and Problem Solving II||SEC 124||4||A|
|Honors Humanitarian Free & Open Source Software Development||IGME 582||3||A|
|Honors Introduction to Routing and Switching||NSSA 241||3||A|
|Calculus II||MATH 182A||4||A|
|Discrete Mathematics for Computing||MATH 190||3||SE|
|Foundations of Moral Philosophy||PHIL 202||3||A|
|Cooperative Education Seminar||SEC 99||0||S|
|Sunrise Yoga||WFIT 93||0||S|
Overall, these experiences showed me that students can handle the double-major curriculum if they are motivated and use their time wisely. As a result, I believe that students willing to put in the effort will succeed in their classes—even if they are taking three+ SEC/CS classes.
Free time and extracurriculars: Will you have time?
Yes. You will have plenty of free time and time to do extracurriculars, but scheduling is key. In my case, I am active in WiCyS, RITSEC, and Sailing. I have a part time job, regularly attend a local philosophy and politics group, and volunteer around thirty hours per semester.
Liberal arts, free electives, and immersions
If you are not interested in liberal arts, feel free to skip this section.
Note that I moved this part to a separate blog post—Why STEM Majors Take Liberal Arts at RIT—because the information applies to a larger audience (i.e., not just double-majors). The post covers common misconceptions about the liberal arts, and how I am using the magic course load formula (along with immersions, minors, and random courses) to expand my horizons.
Graduation date: How much extra time will it take you to graduate?
Despite many people associating CS with SEC, they are two different fields that require a unique skill set. As a result, RIT’s CS and SEC programs do not overlap much.
As a SEC/CS double-major, I need to take sixteen additional classes—48 credits—which is a little more than three semesters. I also need to complete two additional co-ops. However, it will only take me five years total to graduate (2020 to 2025). I can do this because of splitting co-ops, transfer credits, and free course overloads through RIT’s Honors Program.
At RIT, most students majoring in SEC will graduate in four years. RIT’s SEC program requires two summer co-ops. One co-op can be in general computing (i.e., information technology or computer science), and one has to be cybersecurity focused (i.e., penetration testing, incident response and secure coding).
Most students majoring in CS will graduate in five years. CS requires two semester co-ops and one summer co-op.
Splitting and double-counting
One SEC co-op and the CS summer co-op can be double-counted. In other words, one co-op can fulfill one of the SEC co-ops, and the CS summer co-op. Additionally, one of the CS semester co-ops can be split into two summer co-ops.
CS semester co-op = two CS summer co-ops.
I decreased my graduation time by over a year by combining a SEC and CS co-op and by splitting a semester-long co-op into two summer co-ops. Here is my co-op schedule:
For clarification, the summer after freshman year.
|SEC general co-op|
|Sophomore summer||SEC/CS co-op (secure coding)|
|Junior summer||(½) of a CS semester co-op|
|Junior Fall||CS semester co-op|
|Senior summer||(½) of a CS semester co-op|
|Fifth year summer||extra co-op, full-time employment and or Masters classes.|
Transfer credits and course overloads
I moved this section into three blog posts because the information applies to a larger audience (i.e., not just double-majors).
First, I cover how transfer credits work at RIT, and how I used them to cut my graduation time by two semesters in How to Transfer Credits at RIT.
Then, I wrote Transfer Credits vs Course Overloads: Which one should you use?, where you can learn about my experience with course overloads at RIT’s, and whether students should favor course over loads or transfer credits.
Lastly, I posted, How Do Enrollment Dates Work at RIT, which explains how you can use course credits, RIT’s Honors Program, and varsity athletics to increase your enrollment date.
Traveling and studying abroad
Studying abroad is difficult for double-majors. For example, my coursework is not offered at any of RIT’s foreign campuses. This is because many of RIT’s foreign campuses do not offer as many majors as the U.S. campus.
However, double-majors can do faculty lead trips over break or co-ops abroad.
RIT’s Study Abroad Programs
Global Campus Programs
Global Campus Programs allow you to directly enroll in one of RIT’s international campuses located in Dubrovnik & Zagreb, Croatia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Pristina, Kosovo; Beijing & Weihei, China.
Faculty-Led Programs are designed and developed by RIT faculty members, who lead a group of students on a short-term program abroad. Programs vary in length (between one to five weeks) and may take place over winter break, spring break or summer.
Exchanges are culturally immersive programs that allow you to directly enroll in a local university. View RIT study abroad programs.
Affiliate Programs are facilitated by partner universities and organizations to enhance the variety of locations and course offerings available to students. Visit The Compass to search and apply for Affiliate and RIT Study Abroad programs.
International Research opportunities allow you to conduct research abroad at one of RIT’s approved overseas partners with the guidance of an RIT faculty member.
You can learn more at RIT’s study abroad website.
I want to do a three-week faculty led trip during the summer of 2022. This trip is to study Global Trade & Finance, and it does not interfere with my co-op. Unlike most faculty-led trips, this class is taught while we are abroad. Most faculty-led trips require a class to be taken during the semester. Then, the trip is taken during the summer, over winter break, or over spring break.
If RIT offers more abroad classes formatted like Global Trade & Finance, I would love to take one of my CS science electives abroad. If they do not offer one, I will transfer that class in from another university, which is what I am currently planning on doing.
International Experiences through RIT’s Career Services and Co-op Office
“International Experience allows RIT students to work abroad in different countries, cities, and cultures. Our students grow personally and professionally as they experience work in their field of study, adapt to a different work environment, and gain perspective on living in an unfamiliar city.” – RIT’s Career Services and Co-op Office
I would like to do one co-op in Switzerland or Sweden. However, I am not sure when or how I am going to do that. I will write another post on co-oping abroad once I figure out what I am doing.
Accelerated dual-degree programs
RIT offers undergraduate students the ability to take Master’s classes by enrolling into RIT’s Combined Accelerated Pathways Program. Additionally, the program allows students to double-count six to nine credit hours in both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which allows students to graduate faster.
I am applying for RIT’s accelerated Computer Science Master’s degree at the end of my sophomore year. If I get into the program, I can complete my masters by extending my graduation for one summer. My total graduation time would be five years plus one summer.
This is because I can take one more summer or winter course and make room in my undergraduate schedule for a Master’s class. Alternatively, I could take five courses in the fall semester during my fifth year. I originally planned on taking four classes that semester, so I could spend more time applying to 2+2 Master’s of Business Administration programs as a 4+2 applicant.
Once I figure out what I am doing and what my course load looks like, I will write a blog post about this process.
What is 2+2?
A way for current students, either in college or a full-time master’s degree program, to apply to Harvard Business School on a deferred basis.
The 2+2 program is comprised of at least two years of professional work experience followed by two years in the regular HBS MBA Program. We’re looking for innovative thinkers who have demonstrated leadership and analytical skills and want to develop their knowledge and passion to make a difference in the world. After being admitted through 2+2, students spend a minimum of two years (maximum of four years) working in a professional position in the public, private, or nonprofit sector before enrolling at HBS.Harvard Business School
Other business schools offer 2+2 programs too, but Harvard Business School was how I learned about these programs.
Applying to the Double-Major Committee
Five-year course load
RIT’s double-major application requires “a rough outline of how you plan to complete the requirements for both degrees.”
I did this in a color-coded spreadsheet. I tried to replicate my spreadsheet below. Please note that I have already taken the classes listed in the
Freshman column, but the rest of the columns are subject to change.
|* During summer or winter||Math|
|** Transferred from high school||Free electives|
|SEC / CSCI classes||H = Honors|
|Science electives and sequence||Wellness|
|General education perspectives /|
FOSS immersion / FOSS minor
+ = summer
++ = semester
|CHMG 111 *||BIOL 101 *||A CS science elective *||CSCI 462||CSCI 251|
|CPET 121 *||BIOL 102 *||COMM 201||CSCI 471||CSCI 320|
|SEC 99||BIOL 103 *||CSCI 250||CSCI 499 (1/2 of Fall co-op) +||SEC 490|
|SEC 123 == CSCI 141||BIOL 104 *||CSCI 261 / 264||CSCI 499 ++||CSCI 499 (1/2 of Fall co-op) +|
|SEC 124 == CSCI 142||CSCI 243||CSCI 262 / 263||CSCI 531||CSCI 622|
|SEC 140||SEC 201||CSCI 331||IGME 585||CSCI 642|
|ECON 201 *||SEC 202||CSCI 334||SWEN 331||CSCI 759|
|ENGL 210 **||SEC 499 +||CSCI 488 == SEC 499 +||ENGL 316|
|HIST 102 **||ENGL 450||CSCI 532||ENGL 215 / 351|
|ITDL 151H H||IGME 583||SEC 380||ITDL 450H H|
|IGME 582 H||ISTE 230||SEC 472|
|MATH 181A||MATH 241|
|MATH 182A||NSSA 221|
|MATH 190||NSSA 245|
|NSSA 241 H|
|SOCI 102 *|
|UWRT 150 *|
I wrote about my personal statement in a separate blog post, RIT’s Double-Major Personal Statement: Computer Science + Cybersecurity.
If you enjoyed this post about double-majoring at RIT, I recommend reading, The College Search: How I Used Time and Spreadsheets to Assess Colleges.
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