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5 Tips on How to Double Major

How can you double or triple major and still have a life? Below, five SMU Meadows students talk about planners, pressure and the bliss of a Netflix night with friends

Students thinking about double majoring want to know: Can you really pursue more than one degree at the same time and keep everything in balance? How can you combine a music degree with a B.B.A. in finance, or a B.F.A. in dance with mechanical engineering?

Below, five double- and triple-majoring students from SMU Meadows School of the Arts share their expert advice on how to tackle more than one major and still have time for your friends, meals, sleep ... and the occasional call to your parents.

1. Juggling studies, social life, sleep – can you really have it all?

Stejara Dinulescu (B.A. Studio Art, B.S. Psychology, B.A. Creative Computing '19):
Surprisingly, yes! However, there is a caveat: time management. You have to plan out your weeks ahead of time so that you aren’t surprised by any assignments or exams. At the beginning of the school year, I copy down all assignments and deadlines from the syllabus for each of my classes and put them on a checklist and my calendar. That way, I can use my weekends and my free time to complete my assignments so that I can use my evenings to socialize with friends.

Sophia Salinas (B.A. Art History, B.B.A. General Business ’21):
Double majoring doesn’t run your life. In my time outside of class I’m also active in my Commons’ Council, hold a student job on campus, and act as an honors mentor for the University Honors Program. The key to being able to do everything you want is planning ahead, thinking about your course load each semester and finding organizations with flexible hours. Plus, its great making friends through both of your majors and getting to see two different sides of the same campus!

2. Time management – what tips & tricks keep you on track?

Haley Tripp (B.F.A. Dance, B.S. Mechanical Engineering ’19):
My planner is key to keeping me on track every day. I write down deadlines of major assignments, days of exams, times of rehearsals, as well as a to-do list for classes. If I can visually see what needs to be done and when, then it helps me to be more productive and efficient with my time.

Annabelle Kim (B.M. Performance/Flute, B.B.A. Finance ’20):
My recommendation is to spend every minute of downtime doing something productive. On an average day, I typically have 30 minutes of downtime between classes and rehearsals and I spend that time doing something, whether it's practicing for 30 minutes or completing some part of a quick homework assignment.

Anna Grace Carey (B.A. Journalism, B.A. Fashion Media, B.A. Political Science ’19):
I spend at least an hour every Sunday preparing for the week ahead: looking through my calendar for upcoming meetings and events, looking at upcoming assignments and tests, planning when I’m going to go to the gym and see friends, and deciding the best order to get it all done. Then I’ll make “must do” and “try to do” lists. Intentionally setting aside time to organize has saved me more times than I can count.

3. Overload: When you get overloaded, how do you restore a sense of balance?

Haley: I have to take time to reset my mind when I get overloaded. For a moment, I forget about the to-do list that never seems to end and allow myself to be present in another activity. That could be going on a short walk outside to get fresh air and listening to my favorite song, going for a meal and catching up with friends, or laying on the couch and watching a TV show. Little mental breaks are important to keep from getting too overwhelmed.

Stejara: Because I am an introvert, I need time for myself quite frequently to decompress. I like curling up with a cup of tea or coffee and reading books or watching Netflix after taking a shower. However, most important is understanding your limits and realizing it is more than okay to say no if you are feeling overwhelmed. Your mental health is more important than an assignment or going out that night.

Also, don’t hesitate to journal! I keep one in my backpack so that I have it on me at all times. When I’m feeling stressed, I jot down what is going through my head stream-of-consciousness style. It really helps if I have things out on paper. Furthermore, you can make to-do lists on the go, which allows you to better understand the things you have to do as well as the time you have to do them. Tackle the littlest things first and get them out of the way so that you aren’t worrying about them when working on the bigger projects. Seeing your to-do lists go from 10 things to 3 is the best feeling in the world.

Annabelle: Take a 15-minute nap and then get right back to it. The only way to get rid of the overload is to get things finished. The more time you spend hung up on being overwhelmed, the more time you’re losing that can be spent getting your work done.

Sophia: Sometimes when a lot of midterms fall within the same week, it’s easy to get burnt out. It’s important to remember you need to be kind to yourself. When I’m overwhelmed, what makes me feel better is doing things to make the future easier, like studying a little more now so I can go to bed early or having my backpack packed and outfit laid out so it’s easy to get ready the next day. Double majoring doesn’t mean you can’t take breaks for yourself or give yourself time to recharge.

4. Sleep. How can you get enough?

Sophia: Have a bedtime! When you don’t set any expectation for the amount of sleep you want, you start to really mess up your sleep schedule. I would especially hold yourself to this during exam weeks, as time spent cramming all night won’t help you more than studying a little each day in the time leading up to the test and getting a solid eight hours of sleep beforehand.

Anna Grace: Structure your semester schedule judiciously. Balance “easy” and “hard” classes. Some classes require a lot of outside homework. Others require a lot of outside meeting times; for example, if you’re in a theatre class you will be required to attend the SMU theatre productions. Other classes are intense during the class period but have minimal homework requirements. Having an idea of what your class schedule looks like ahead of time can help you make decisions about your extracurricular and work commitments to ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.

5. What’s the best way to work with your degree and academic counselors?

Anna Grace: Talk to your counselor early and often. The first time you meet your academic counselor should not be when you’re applying to graduate senior year because there isn’t a lot they can do to help you at that point. I started meeting with my academic counselor my sophomore year and it has been amazing. I came into her office, told her what my goals were and she helped me take classes that would get me on track to achieve those goals.

Haley: Definitely take advantage of your degree counselors. When considering courses for two majors and UC curriculum, the requirements can be quite daunting. Communicating with your counselors helps to relieve stress as they can help you to stay focused on the little steps rather than getting overwhelmed with how you will achieve the end result.

During my freshman year, my degree counselor helped me to map out my four years. Together we set aside the number of credit hours each semester that would be going towards each degree. Although not all of the classes fell into place exactly as planned, the initial outline allowed me to substitute courses and remain on track for both of my majors.

Bonus Tip: How do you keep pressure and stress – from professors, parents, peers, papers – at bay?

Annabelle: Come to classes, lessons, and rehearsals like this is the only major you have and that is your only focus for your career. When I came in as a double major, I wanted the same expectations from my professors that any other student received. I make it a point not to “boast” about my two majors, but rather imagine myself as a future music professional in music classes and rehearsals, and as a future businesswoman in my business classes.

Anna Grace: Have fun with it! You should never major in something that you hate. If you come to SMU, you will have access to some of the best opportunities available to undergraduates around the United States. Don’t let those opportunities pass you by. Explore what you’re passionate about, take on leadership roles, apply for fellowships and scholarships, and create projects that you’re proud of. This is the time in your life to freely pursue your passions. When you’re doing what you love, the work doesn’t feel like work.

Stejara: Trust in yourself. You know yourself, your passions and your limits. Sometimes, parents can be particularly overwhelming when it comes to your grades and areas of study. I find that sitting down and having a conversation with them is the best way to navigate these pressures instead of avoiding that confrontation. If you explain your needs to your parents, they can get a glimpse of what your stress and work load looks like and begin to take measures to ease some of that stress, or at the very least keep from adding to it. Bottom line: your parents and your professors are looking out for you, even though it may not seem like it at first. They all want to see you succeed, so sitting down and having tough conversations is a good way to communicate your needs and worries.

Sophia: Double major or not, everyone experiences some amount of stress in college. It’s best to prevent stress for yourself when you can by planning ahead for busy weeks and holding yourself accountable for work you are responsible for. Aside from what you yourself can do, I think it’s really important to remember that you have a support system when you need it. Whether that means classmates you can study with or friends in your commons who you can vent to or even your family, remember that there is a network of people you can reach out to.

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