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5 Tips on How to Double Major

Double majoring is on the rise. Is it right for you?

Meet the Double (and Triple) Majors

Approximately 80 percent of Meadows students pursue a double major or minor. Why? They are passionate about more than one field of study and they want to stand out in the marketplace. Thinking of tackling two majors? The eight Meadows students below share advice on how to take charge of your double – or even a triple – degrees.

Lucas Crespo Arias, B.A. Film & Media Arts, B.A. Advertising/Creative ’18

Molly Coughlin, B.A. Corporate Communications and Public Affairs (political focus), B.A. Public Relations and Strategic Communications,’18
Molly Coughlin far right, with her dad Mike Coughlin, far left, and SMU alumna Laura Bush (’68) and former President George W. Bush.

Alex Dunaway, B.A. Music/Trombone and B.A. Chemistry ’18

Hannah Ellisen, B.A. Public Relations and Strategic Communication, B.A. Journalism '18

Eric Emerson, B.F.A. Dance, B.A. Sociology ’18

Tiffany Giraudon, B.A. Advertising/Creative, B.A. Art ’18
Tiffany Giraudon left, with fellow ADDY winners Samantha Butz (’17) and Helen Rieger (’17).

Alison Machabee, B.F.A. Dance, B.B.A. Management ’18
Alison Machabee

Matthew Wagner, B.F.A. Theatre/Acting, B.S. Computer Science, B.A. Creative Computation 2019

Students thinking about double majoring want to know: How do students study for two or more degrees and still have a life? How do they handle it all? At SMU Meadows School of the Arts, many students double major or minor in combinations such as dance and economics, film and sociology, public relations and marketing and more. Below, eight Meadows double majors give straight-up advice on how to succeed at pursuing two degrees at once.

Juggling studies, social life, sleep: Can you really have it all?

Tiffany Giraudon, B.A. Advertising/Creative, B.A. Art ’18: Yes, you can! It is all about time management. It’s really important to know what works best for you. I am at my best and most productive in the mornings; because of this, I scheduled my courses to start a little bit later to best utilize my time not spent in class. I’m also able to work in social time after classes each day, with plenty of time to rest before I wake up and do it all again.

Lucas Crespo Arias, B.A. Film & Media Arts, B.A. Advertising/Creative ’18: I had always thought that you could only pick two of the three “S’s” of college – studies, social life and/or sleep. I imagined I would have to stop seeing my friends and miss out on a lot of stuff, but as my classes went on I saw that being organized with to-do's and due dates helps out more than you can imagine. If you focus your attention on things that have more priority, you won’t have to sacrifice your social life or sleep for the sake of good grades.

Alison Machabee, B.F.A. Dance, B.B.A. Management ’18: I find it important to focus on what matters most. Carving out time to spend with dear friends, or spending a Sunday studying in Starbucks, or taking an afternoon nap and getting to bed early are all possible, just not all of the time. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices in one area of my life to open a door in another area of my life, but it is all worth it in the end.

So time management is key. What tips and tricks keep you on track?

Molly Coughlin, B.A. Corporate Communications and Public Affairs (political focus), B.A. Public Relations and Strategic Communications,’18: I highly recommend some sort of organizational calendar or something like that so you are reminded, with plenty of notice, when your assignments are due. The professors’ syllabi at the start of the semester are awesome to make extended schedules so you can strategically allocate your time and still have fun to enjoy SMU and Dallas.

Alex Dunaway, B.A. Music/Trombone and B.A. Chemistry ’18: Instead of planners, I use the reminders app on my phone to make a list of everything I need to get done that day. Clearing that list each day is what keeps me grounded and ahead of the workload. Learning how to manage my free time has saved me from being overwhelmed.

Hannah Ellisen, B.A. Public Relations and Strategic Communication, B.A. Journalism '18: Use the time in between classes wisely. If I have an awkward time gap between classes I go over to the library and organize my notes. This reduces the amount of time needed to study for tests. Go through your class schedules at the beginning of the semester and mark the key dates in your agenda – that helps you prepare for when you have very busy weeks.

Eric Emerson, B.F.A. Dance, B.A. Sociology ’18: Utilize a planner and calendar to relieve excessive mental congestion. Every night before I go to bed, I make a mandatory agenda for the next day, diminishing the possibility of procrastination. Think in advance about long essays and projects – don’t wait till the night before. Analyze your homework assignments in advance and have an understanding of how much time each will require. Don't just assume you'll be able to get four different assignments done in one night.

Overload: How do you restore a sense of balance?

Matthew Wagner, B.F.A. Theatre/Acting, B.S. Computer Science, B.A. Creative Computation ’19: I recommend taking an hourlong break. Breathing and relaxing for longer than 15 minutes really helps me regain my focus and really work hard.

Tiffany Giraudon: Double majoring means a lot of classes and a lot of work outside of class. However, I am doing what I love. When the work starts to overwhelm me, I always try to remember to take a step back and take a few minutes for myself to relax. This could be watching an episode on Netflix, walking down to the Meadows Museum, sitting on Dallas Hall lawn with friends or getting a quick sweat in at the gym. It’s impossible to go-go-go all week long; small mental breaks are imperative.

Molly Coughlin: Sometimes I call my mom; she’ll remind me to take a step back and breathe. Also: Sitting all day in class takes a toll. Walking around and working out are great ways to burn off excess anxiety and rejuvenate. And: going to sleep! Some days I feel so finished and stressed with what I’m working on that I get counterproductive. Taking a nap or calling it quits for the night is a great way to put the stress behind you and start fresh in the morning.

Pressure and stress from professors, parents, peers, papers, deadlines: How do you keep pressure at bay?

Alex Dunaway: When everything seems to be piling on I remind myself of a saying my father taught me: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I am reminded that I just have to break up the work into bite-sized chunks. That calms me down and makes things much more manageable.

Eric Emerson: It’s important to schedule personal relaxation in the day. I think just sleeping, eating and studying over and over will result in a lack of motivation. Rewarding my work with at least 30 minutes of free time spikes my productivity throughout the day.

Lucas Crespo Arias: Lists! I make a list of everything I have to do on an app called MyHomework, which lets you get organized, schedule all your classes, projects, meetings, tests and more, and it notifies you when you are forgetting to do your homework. A list reminds you of your responsibilities. You can keep track of your progress and cross items out when you are done with them. It feels great whenever I cross out something from a list - it means I'm moving in the right direction.

What’s the best way to work with your degree or academic counselors?

Eric Emerson: Take advantage of these resources ahead of time. Don’t dig yourself into a hole by putting off meeting your advisors until the end of the semester (or worse, at the end of your college program). The info on SMU UC and specific majors can be confusing, but meeting with your department and school counselors will quickly relieve that stress. Meet with your advisor before the end of the semester -- they get extremely busy when it’s time for all the students to select courses for the upcoming semester. If you meet earlier you can possibly have longer time slots for discussion, which can help you have a better idea of what you’ll be doing for the next coming semester.

Alison Machabee: Working with degree counselors is easiest when you arrive fully prepared for your meetings. Degree counselors are there to guide you through the process of selecting courses, not to tell you exactly what to do and what to take. By doing my own research of UC requirements and major requirements, I was able to piece together a potential four-year plan that my counselors helped me confirm and alter. By taking this initiative, I not only understood my requirements fully, but I was also prepared in advance to take courses on track, to register for summer school/interim terms, and to modify my schedule as needed.

Sleep: How can you get enough sleep when working on more than one degree at the same time?

Matthew Wagner: Sleep is a necessity whether you are a single, double or triple major. I try to get 8-10 hours of sleep every night and find that it helps to be consistent about when you go to sleep. When you choose your classes, pay attention to what time they start in the morning. As a theatre major, there are definitely times where I have to stay up until midnight to rehearse a scene for my class. But I have arranged my schedule so that I can get the amount of sleep that I need. Tip: When choosing your classes, pay attention to what time they start in the morning.

Molly Coughlin: Tales of all-nighters terrified me when I first started college. That said, sleep goes back to time management. There are some nights I stay up significantly later, like when I go to a movie with friends instead of first finishing an essay. I wouldn’t say I consistently get the recommended eight hours of sleep, but managing my workload by starting projects, assignments and studying far in advance helps a lot.

Hannah Ellisen: I am a night person. I do my best work late at night, so I tend to go to bed later and sleep in. I have been lucky enough to not have early morning classes for a majority of my time at SMU.

Do you have any other tips, tricks, advice or observations that would help a student who is thinking about double majoring?

Lucas Crespo Arias: Something that helped me out a lot is that I am pursuing two majors in the same school: Advertising/Creative and Film, both under Meadows. Not everyone who pursues double majors do them in the same schools, but it definitely helps having all your resources, advisors, professors and classes under the same roof all working together.

Alison Machabee: Throughout my years as a double-major, I have always intended to place the majority of my focus and energy into dance. I came to SMU to dance, and I am thrilled and honored to also be obtaining an incredibly credible business degree, but by setting myself up to spend the semesters steeped in dance courses and rehearsals (and accordingly taking business courses in the summers), I haven't felt nearly as torn between my two majors. Overall, I would recommend that anyone who wants to pursue a double-major should approach it with this mindset -- spreading yourself too thin never ends well!

Matthew Wagner: Really staying on top of your work is the best way to succeed. Working ahead always helps, and communicating with your professors will never fail to help you. They always understand what you’re going through, especially if your degree is in two different schools at SMU. Talk to all of your professors at the beginning of the semester and explain your double/triple degrees. I have never had a bad experience with a teacher who doesn’t work with my schedule.

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