The Low-Down on Double Majors

Low-Down on Double Majors

Choosing one major can be stressful enough; is it worthwhile to choose two? The value of a double major depends on your goals, how far along in college you are and your personal circumstances. If you are thinking about a double major, consider these points.

1. What are your goals?
You might have several reasons for considering two majors. Some of the most common reasons, and related considerations, are:

  • You have strong interests in two different fields. Think about whether you are better served by studying both fields in-depth or by choosing one. Some students successfully explore two fields by declaring a double major early and then dropping the less-desirable major or reducing it to a minor later in their college careers. If you choose a single major, you could still minor or choose electives in the other area. A double major often limits your ability to choose electives that don’t fit with either major.
  • You have a specific career in mind that crosses two areas of study. Many careers have interdisciplinary aspects. Consider whether the extra time, effort and expense to complete two majors provides an advantage over one or more concentrations or minors that complement a single major. Also find out whether your institution allows students to create custom majors if specific needs aren’t addressed by the standard offerings.
  • You want to set yourself apart in the job market. While many career options require a college degree, many don’t require a specific major, much less two. Although a high GPA in two different majors can demonstrate your abilities to work hard and prioritize, employers may prefer experience gained through internships or co-ops, volunteering or working while focusing on one major.
  • You already have credits that fit two specific areas of study. If you have accumulated enough credits outside your major requirements that fit together, you may find it worthwhile to take a few additional classes to complete a second major. If doing so will mean delaying graduation, consider the costs of paying for additional semesters.

2. Where are you in your college career?
It often works best to declare a double major within the first year or two of college for the reasons below.

  • Your college may limit the number or type of classes that can be used for both majors, even if your majors are closely related. If the number of upper-level classes that apply to both majors is limited, it may be harder to find or schedule enough classes for both majors.
  • Your majors may have different elective requirements. While it is generally easier to use general education credits for two majors, each major may have its own graduation requirements. (For example, one major may require one semester of a certain type of elective, while the other major may require four.) So declaring a second major late in your college career may require you to delay graduation—and spend more on college—while you meet requirements for both majors.
  • You may have more difficulty graduating on time because of scheduling difficulties and the extra rigor involved with double majors. If you will end up graduating in five or six years instead of four to accommodate a double major, consider whether an undergraduate degree in one field and a graduate degree in the other over the same amount of time would serve you better. Many graduate programs do not require a specific undergraduate major for admission. Depending on your career choice, a grad degree may enable you to earn more in your first job after college, helping to offset the cost of additional semesters.
  • You may want to take a range of electives. With the number of required classes for both majors, many students find that a double major limits their ability to take electives they like or that provide a wider range of knowledge.

3. What do others say?
Rely on the resources below to guide you.

  • Your academic adviser, as well as advisers for both majors, will be able to assist you in determining how difficult a specific double major could be, as well as any constraints you haven’t previously considered.
  • Current students in both majors can provide insight about their experiences. You may be able to find another student who either is pursuing or initially considered the same two majors. These students can also help you determine if a double major is feasible for your situation.
  • College graduates who are working now can advise whether the type or number of majors helped them in their job search.
  • Employers may also have valuable input. Ask employers in your fields of interest how beneficial a double major would be if you were to apply for a job at their workplace. You may find that focusing on a more specialized major with some electives or experience in the other area is sufficient. If you are concerned about your ability to maintain a high GPA in two majors, find out if lower grades would be a deterrent from the employer’s standpoint.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Choosing the Right College for Your Major


During your senior year of high school, you’ll have many important decisions to make, including which colleges to apply to. If you know your planned college major, you can narrow your search. Use one or more of the methods below to build your list.

If you have an unusual major, you may want to narrow your search by availability. Remember that different colleges may have different names for similar fields of study or offer them through different departments. To determine if a college has your desired major, review the required courses among the possibilities.

Financial fit
Colleges may offer merit- and need-based awards if you have demonstrated ability in your chosen major or otherwise are a student with sought-after qualities. If you don’t qualify for enough or any aid, consider whether you can manage the financial commitment to each college offering your major.

Many organizations compile public lists of the best schools according to several categories. Research lists like the U.S. News and World Report rankings and Princeton Review to determine which schools are considered the best in your field of study.

Accreditation, certification or designation
Schools may be accredited, certified or designated by a national or international organization to prepare students according to certain standards or up to certain levels. Two examples are ABET accreditation for engineering majors and Flagship designation for languages. If employers generally seek graduates from accredited, certified or designated programs, make sure you apply to those programs.

Size of program
The size of a common program may differ greatly among colleges, even those that have roughly equivalent undergraduate populations. Besides the actual number of students declaring your intended major, consider the fraction of a student body enrolled in that program and what that might imply about the quality or selectiveness of the program.

The placement rate of students graduating from your intended program at different schools can indicate your relative chances of landing your dream job after graduation.

Career preparation
Some schools have strong relationships with area industries and employers in specific fields, resulting in more opportunities for internships and co-ops while you’re in school. Many of these also have strong career centers and programs on campus to help you be successful in jobs during and after college.

Grad school relationship
If you’re planning to attend a specific graduate school, you may want to determine if your choice of an undergrad program affects your chances of admission.

Other considerations
Regardless of your major, you should also consider several other aspects when choosing a college.

  • Do you prefer a public university or a private college?
  • Does geographical location or proximity to large population centers matter to you?
  • Does the school offer the extracurricular activities you seek?
  • How likely are you to graduate on time, and can you afford extra semesters at that school?
  • Does the school offer a wide variety of programs or does it specialize? What happens if you change your mind about your major?
  • How selective is the program for students like you? You can review each school’s admissions statistics by researching its Common Data Set online. (Simply search for “Common Data Set” and the college name in your internet browser.) The Common Data Set allows consumers to compare consistent admissions data from multiple institutions. Compare your admissions profile to the information shown in sections C9–C11 of the Common Data Set for your school for one indication of acceptance.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Major Changes (Infographic)

MajorChanges-InfographicDownload this infographic as a PDF.

You may read or hear startling statistics about the number of times the average college student changes majors in college. Statistics show, however, that a large proportion of college students don’t change their major once they have declared it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 69% of college students who began college during the 2003–2004 academic year did not change their major by 2009. Of the remaining students, 24% changed their major once and seven percent changed their major two or more times.

An ongoing update to that study indicates the trend is similar for college students who began college during the 2011–2012 academic year. Seventy percent had not changed their major as of June 2014, and 20% had changed their major once. The percentage of students changing their major two or more times jumped to 10%.

On average, college students have 1.4 majors (including the original major) over the course of their college careers, according to NCES.

NCES also reports that after graduation, 86% express satisfaction with their college major.

According to, nearly half (48%) of students end up working in a field related to their major.

Tools that allow you to learn more about jobs related to specific college majors may help you join the ranks of students who do not change their college majors. Check out ROCI Reality Check and Student Loan Game Plan to discover more.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Helping Your Student Choose a Major


“I want to go to college, but I don’t know what major I should pick.”

If your student has said something along these lines, consider it a bit of a red flag, especially if you’ll help your student pay for college or if they’ll need to borrow to pay for it.

Put simply, it’s important for you to know that your student will have the means to make their loan payments after they graduate. The consequences could mean they end up moving back in with you and asking you to make their loan payment.

So, what can you do?

First, take some of the pressure off. Explain to your student that by choosing a major they aren’t necessarily making a decision that will dictate the rest of their life. On average, people work seven different jobs in their lifetime. Right now, your student is only considering what their first job will be. After they get established and try that first job, they can figure out if it is right for them, or start the process of positioning themselves for their dream job down the road.

Think of their college outcome as building a base of solid income and employability. Once that base is in place and they are able to make it on their own financially, they may be able to take some risks and try other things. They will always have their first profession to fall back on if their new aspiration does not work out.

Second, be practical and match your student’s capabilities with a career that provides financial stability.

In terms of capabilities, the following questions are important.

  • Is your student able to succeed academically in the field of study leading to the target career? Many recruiters don’t consider candidates unless they have at least a 2.5 GPA.
  • Does your student have enough interest in the academic subject matter and the work they would be doing to be successful? It doesn’t have to be a burning passion, but your student should have at least enough interest to enjoy the work.
  • Do they have the right personality to be successful in the target career? For example, an introvert may not succeed in jobs usually held by extroverts.

Most importantly, don’t be shy about having a conversation with your student. Allowing students too much freedom to figure things out on their own, or time to “find themselves” can be a big mistake financially and academically.

In terms of researching careers, Iowa Student Loan has tools that both you and your student can use to find jobs of interest. Earnings potential matters. The rule of thumb is that the total student loan debt at graduation should not exceed the student’s first-year starting salary.

By: Steve McCullough
Iowa Student Loan

It’s Time to Have “The Talk”


How will your children know what to do in a situation that life throws at them if you don’t talk to them about it first?

Many parents assume that because they are adept at handling finances that their children will be too—by osmosis, perhaps? But your children, especially those heading to college for the first time this fall, need to be shown how to be financially responsible.

You may often hear about “financial literacy” as a key to producing financially responsible individuals, but a better term may be “financial well-being.” The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recently published several documents related to this concept that outline an approach that advocates for consumers to achieve a state where they can:

  1. “fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations,
  2. feel secure in their financial future, and
  3. make choices that allow enjoyment of life.”

They describe having these three traits as “financial well-being.”

To achieve a state of financial well-being, one must be armed with more than knowledge. To make sound financial decisions one needs to be able to locate and process reliable information related to those decisions. Where can your children get this information? There are so many sources available online and in print, but kids need parental involvement in the process. It’s time for “the talk” about financial responsibility.

Discuss the three parts of financial well-being mentioned above with your children. Talk to your kids about what it costs to actually live the lifestyle they are accustomed to living. Discuss appropriate use of credit cards; explore credit scores; help them understand a mortgage; and discuss how to find the best deal when shopping for a loan—especially if they will need to take out a student loan for college. It’s OK if you need to look up financial terms like APR, equity or collateral—look them up together and learn together.

loanphotoLay out the problems with making only minimum monthly payments on credit cards—the required disclosure box on any credit statement can help show what happens when you pay only the minimum payment each month. Your children will most likely be shocked at the amount of time to pay off even a relatively small bill and the amount of interest that will be paid.

Find a loan calculator online and show them how much they will need to pay each month after they get out of college (if they have student loans). Ask them what they think they will need to earn in their first year at their first job to “feel secure in their financial future” and to enjoy the lifestyle they envision, knowing that student loan payments may be a given on top of a mortgage, a car payment and other expenses.

It’s never too early to learn about financial well-being. So gather the kids and start the process of providing them with the knowledge they need to be successful. They will thank you later.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Before You Apply for a Student Loan


So, your awarded financial aid isn’t enough to cover your full cost of attendance and you know you will need additional student loans to pay for college. Before you apply, consider how you’ll manage repayment. Here’s what you need to know.

Federal student loans are limited. Undergraduate students can take out only so much in federal student loans each year. If you need additional student loans above that limit, you may need to consider private student loans or parent loans.

You’ll need adult assistance. You will need to have a creditworthy cosigner for any private student loans, unless you’re the rare student who can meet underwriting criteria on your own. If your parents are willing to consider a federal Parent PLUS Loan, they will need to borrow that money and be responsible for paying it back themselves.

You will need to repay the debt. Student loans are not usually dischargeable for bankruptcy or other financial hardship. When you think about your repayment amount, remember:

  • Your repayment amount will be more than the original loan amount. Student loans accrue interest on a daily basis. At certain times, unpaid accrued interest may be capitalized, or added to your principal balance, and begin accruing interest as well.
  • You will have a limited income. Carefully consider how much a graduate with your major can realistically expect to make in an entry-level position. Add anticipated student loan payments for all your undergraduate years, including any federal loans in your financial aid package, to anticipated expenses for a realistic budget based on a starting salary. If you will not be able to meet all your expenses on your starting salary, you may need to rethink your ability to take on student loan debt.

You can make interest and other payments during college. Most lenders allow you to prepay or pay extra on your student loans at any time without penalty. In addition, paying interest as it accrues while you’re in school can reduce the amount of interest you’ll need to repay after graduation.

Private student loans vary. Every lender has its own underwriting criteria, qualification requirements, loan terms and repayment schedules. Before you sign for a loan, research your options. Consider:

  • Variable vs. fixed interest rates. A variable rate may go up or down according to market conditions, while a fixed rate remains the same throughout the loan term. A low variable rate is often appealing, but remember that it may change drastically over your term.
  • Actual interest rate. Many lenders offer different rates based on the applicants’ and cosigners’ credit. If you are unable to determine your rate upfront, consider the highest rates.
  • Repayment assistance and benefits. Some lenders or loan servicers offer assistance if you are unable to make your monthly payments. You may also be eligible for benefits, such as a reduced interest rate for making automatic electronic payments. Consider these features carefully.
  • Managing repayment. Will you need additional loans for future years? Do you want to obtain all your loans from a single or limited number of lenders to make repayment easier? Will you want to consolidate multiple loans later, and does your lender offer that option?

You may need to rethink your college choices. If you find that you cannot afford to take on enough debt to pay your full cost of attendance, you may need to come up with a new plan.

  • Earn more. Increase your ability to pay college costs as they occur by earning more income while you’re in school and on breaks.
  • Reduce expenses. Your full cost of attendance may include expenses you can cut. Can living off campus without a meal plan save you money? Are the book and fees and transportation costs realistic for your situation?
  • Ask for help. Do you have relatives who are willing to offer you money for college? Are you eligible for additional scholarships, either through the school or outside entities?
  • Attend a less-expensive school. If you still cannot afford your cost of attendance without taking on unmanageable debt, you may need to consider withdrawing and attending a less-expensive school, at least for a year or two.

Visit Student Loan Game Plan for more information and tips.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Student Loan Basics: What Parents and Cosigners Need to Know


If a student in your life did not receive enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance for college, he or she may turn to you for financial help. If you are considering taking on a federal parent loan or cosigning a private student loan with your student, consider these important points.

1. Student debt is a financial decision.
You are likely emotionally invested in wanting to see your student succeed in college, but it’s important to remember student loans are a financial product and require objective, not emotional, consideration.

2. You are financially liable for the debt.
If you take out a federal Parent PLUS Loan, you are taking on the debt yourself. Carefully consider the repayment terms, interest rate and fees you may face.

If you are considering cosigning a private student loan, be aware that you will be responsible for payments if your student doesn’t make them. Late payments, delinquency and default will affect your credit.

3. The total repayment amount will be more than the loan amount.
Student loans generally accrue interest every day. Interest may also capitalize at certain times, such as when the student graduates or a period of assistance ends. This means accrued, unpaid interest will be added to the principal balance. In addition, you may have origination, late or other loan fees incorporated into the total repayment amount.

4. The responsibility can last as long as the loan term.
Student loans are not typically discharged in the event of bankruptcy or other circumstances. In addition, if your student doesn’t graduate, earn as much as anticipated after graduating or obtain the anticipated career, the debt doesn’t go away. If the loan has been disbursed, cosigners are equally responsible for payment.

Many lenders offer a cosigner release. If you are counting on being released from your obligation to repay the debt, pay careful attention to the requirements for obtaining this benefit. Your student will likely need to make a certain number of on-time payments and meet other conditions before cosigners are eligible for release.

5. Your circumstances may change before the debt is repaid.
If your child or grandchild is entering college now, consider how your income may change before the end of the anticipated loan term. Will you still be working or will you be stretching a retirement income to cover any payments? What happens if you or your student loses a job?

6. You can help your student successfully repay debt.
Preparing your student to fulfill his or her obligations for a cosigned loan or taking on PLUS Loan payments (if that is your and your student’s understanding) is an important step.

  • Research loan options. Consider interest rates, terms and fees, available repayment assistance in the event of hardship, borrower benefits and potential starting salary when thinking about your loan options.
  • Understand potential starting budget. It’s easy for an incoming college student to overestimate how much a starting career will pay and underestimate other expenses when they consider the cost of college and their ability to repay debt after graduation. Together with your student, go through ROCI Reality Check to see starting salaries and job outlook by specific major to gain a realistic view of life after graduation.
  • Monitor college success. Good grades, valuable job and internship experiences and appropriate career preparation can all help your student have an advantage in the job search. You can help your student position him- or herself for a starting salary that will allow manageable loan payments.
  • Make your plan. Experience the parent version of Student Loan Game Plan for tips and information on how to work with your student to ensure success.

By: Iowa Student Loan