Table of Contents
- Know Thyself: Why do you want to dual major? Is it worth it?
- Financial aid, scholarships and GPA warnings
- Ideal course load
- Stress levels
- Freedom: What about liberal arts classes?
- Graduation date: How much extra time will it take you to graduate?
- Traveling and studying abroad
- Accelerated dual-degree programs
- Applying to the Double Major Committee
Know Thyself: Why do you want to dual 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 (CSEC) and Computer Science (CS).
Since Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has one of the best undergraduate CSEC 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 CSEC 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 CSEC 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.
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
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 CSEC/CS double-major. Additionally, some programs—like M.D.s—often require certain undergraduate coursework; so, you could be a triple major (CS/CSEC/Mathematics) from Stanford, but still not be qualified for an M.D. program.
Since double-majoring in CSEC/CS gives students more experience in the classroom, graduate CSEC/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 CSEC/CS classes will be more prepared for CSEC/CS Master’s programs (Harper).
Thus, Computer Science and Cybersecurity Master’s programs may be impressed with CSEC/CS double-major applicants.
I do not 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 will 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).
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 CSEC/CS double-major program, my advisors stressed that taking more than three CSEC/CS classes a semester was not recommended. Apparently, GPAs tank when students take more than three CSEC/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 CSEC/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 CSEC/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 CSEC/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+ CSEC/CS classes.
Thus, I want to explain why I am not scared of double-majoring.
Example 1: Fall Semester 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 CSEC introductory programming sequence. I am not joking; 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. I also 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||CSEC 123||4||A|
|Introduction to Cybersecurity||CSEC 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 2: Spring Semester 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||CSEC 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||CSEC 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+ CSEC/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.
Freedom: What about liberal arts classes?
If you are not interested in liberal arts, feel free to skip this section.
One of the magic course load formula’s perks is that I can broaden my horizons by taking extra liberal arts electives.
Many liberal arts colleges in the United States fill their freshman and sophomore academic curricula around building a strong foundation in English, history, music, natural sciences, etc.. Then, students’ junior and senior years are usually spent in their major or specialization. For example, a CS student at a typical liberal arts college will spend two years taking liberal arts electives—science, history, language, and math—before spending two years on computer science.
The phrase liberal arts today does not refer to The Arts, or even the humanities; it is a broader concept. In fact, in phrases like liberal arts core, or liberal arts education, the word arts is meant to encompass the humanities, and the social sciences, and the natural and physical sciences, including mathematics.
The phrase liberal education does not refer to a curriculum that contrasts with a conservative education; it refers to a curriculum designed to provide students with the knowledge and abilities to become successful, productive members of a free society. It provides them the opportunity to practice free-thinking. (Remember, liberal as in free, as opposed to constrained or subjugated.) It teaches them how to think critically, communicate clearly, analyze and solve complex problems, appreciate others, understand the physical world, and be prepared to learn continuously so they can work with others and on their own to meet the challenges of the future.What the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal arts’ actually means by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post
Interested in the history of liberal arts education?
Although liberal arts classes may not directly contribute to students’ careers, they often give students a broader skill set and problem solving abilities (Newton). Liberal arts students are often better communicators. They are more persuasive and worldly, which makes it easier for them to make connections between problems, trends, ideas and experiences (Deming).
RIT has a liberal arts college, but most students do not follow a liberal arts curriculum. This is both a blessing and a curse. STEM students who do not want to take liberal arts classes do not need to take many, but students that want to take liberal arts classes sometimes struggle to find space for them.
Although RIT may beat liberal arts schools in technical capabilities, life is technical, cultural, and emotional. In other words, RIT students specialize in their field, but some critics argue that they may lack the creative and critical thinking skills that liberal arts students possess. As a result, RIT students may want to take liberal arts into their own hands by taking liberal arts classes. Just because RIT is not classified as a liberal arts college does not mean that it does not offer liberal arts classes.
I have experienced the effects of liberal arts education first-hand. My high school was extremely liberal arts focused. The curriculum was based on the open sharing of information through emphasizing harkness discussions, and promoting well-roundedness.
Although my high school’s focus on liberal arts often agitated me as a robotics student, I realized how important communication skills and history are after coming to RIT. I find it much easier to give presentations because I have done so many. I excel at and enjoy debate and political discussions. Also, I find it easy to talk to professors, teaching assistants, and employers because my high school taught me how to handle these situations.
However, these skills take practice and require maintenance in order to keep them. Furthermore, I am not a perfect communicator, so I still have a lot to learn. As a result, I want to make sure I can develop and maintain my communication, cultural and life skills in college.
I am doing this through my immersion, minor, and random classes.
Immersions and minors
“As part of their requirements, bachelor’s degree students must complete an immersion—a concentration of three courses in a particular area. These courses support deeper learning within a focus area and are used to meet RIT’s general education requirements. In many cases, an immersion can lead to a minor with the addition of two courses. However, not all minors have a corresponding immersion and vice versa.”
I love reading and writing, so I am doing my immersion in FOSS. Eventually, I will convert my immersion to a FOSS and Free Culture minor because I have enough space in my schedule. Despite the practical and STEM-y name, FOSS electives are English, history and business classes; they are liberal arts classes that deal with computers.
Example FOSS Courses
ENGL-450: Free & Open Source Culture
IGME-583: Legal and Business Aspects of FOSS
IGME-582: Humanitarian Free & Open Source Software Development
COMM-304: Intercultural Communication
ENGL-215: Text & Code
Each student at RIT has to take free electives in order to graduate. I already completed the free electives I need in order to graduate. As a result, I am calling these classes “random classes.” In other words, random classes are classes that do not count towards my major or graduation requirements.
Random classes I am taking are public speaking, negotiation, French I (maybe), and global finance. I plan on studying global finance during a 3-week study abroad trip!
Graduation date: How much extra time will it take you to graduate?
Despite many people associating CS with CSEC, they are two different fields that require a unique skill set. As a result, RIT’s CS and CSEC programs do not overlap much.
As a CSEC/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 CSEC will graduate in four years. RIT’s CSEC 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.
One CSEC co-op and the CS summer co-op can be double-counted. In other words, one co-op can fulfill one of the CSEC 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 CSEC and CS co-op and by splitting a semester-long co-op into two summer co-ops. Here is my co-op schedule:
|Freshman summer||CSEC general co-op|
|Sophomore summer||CSEC/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.|
For clarification, “freshman summer” means the summer after freshman year.
Transfer credits and course overloads
Read How to Transfer Credits at RIT, which is about how transfer credits work at RIT, and how I used them to cut my graduation time by two semesters.
Read Transfer Credits Versus Course Overloads: Which one should you use? to learn about my experience with course overloads at RIT’s, and whether students should favor course over loads or transfer credits.
Lastly, read How Do Enrollment Dates Work at RIT to learn about how you can use 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
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. Here is a remake of that spreadsheet:
Note: This is an expected track. 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|
|CSEC / 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|
|CSEC 99||BIOL 103 *||CSCI 250||CSCI 499 (1/2 of Fall co-op) +||CSEC 490|
|CSEC 123 == CSCI 141||BIOL 104 *||CSCI 261 / 264||CSCI 499 ++||CSCI 499 (1/2 of Fall co-op) +|
|CSEC 124 == CSCI 142||CSCI 243||CSCI 262 / 263||CSCI 531||CSCI 622|
|CSEC 140||CSEC 201||CSCI 331||IGME 585||CSCI 642|
|ECON 201 *||CSEC 202||CSCI 334||SWEN 331||CSCI 759|
|ENGL 210 **||CSEC 499 +||CSCI 488 == CSEC 499 +||ENGL 316|
|HIST 102 **||ENGL 450||CSCI 532||ENGL 215 / 351|
|ITDL 151H H||IGME 583||CSEC 380||ITDL 450H H|
|IGME 582 H||ISTE 230||CSEC 472|
|MATH 181A||MATH 241|
|MATH 182A||NSSA 221|
|MATH 190||NSSA 245|
|NSSA 241 H|
|SOCI 102 *|
|UWRT 150 *|
RIT’s CSEC/CS double major instruction guide asks for the following:
A one-page personal statement to be submitted along with Double Major Authorization form. The statement should include the following information:
- Your name and contact information
- Why you are hoping to add a Double Major in Computer Science
- Your academic strengths
- Your professional goals and interests
Here is my personal statement with names redacted: