MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXI No. 1
September / October 2008
Silence of the Lions
MIT's New Supercomputing Network
Problems in Evaluating
Four-Year Colleges
Agenda Items: New and Old
An Update on the Educational Commons Subcommittee
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Moving From Two Degrees to
Double Majors
MIT 4th Best College,
Top Engineering School
Darwin Bicentenntial Events
Planned at MIT
What is the Global Education and Career Development Center?
The First Step Toward Solving Global Warming: Getting MIT to Listen
MISTI Announces the
MISTI Global Seed Funds
Workplace 2.0: Improving Generativity, Creativity, and Faculty Quality of Life
Why So Few Faculty
are Involved in Service
Research Expenditures by Primary Sponsor (1999-2008)
Printable Version

Moving from Two Degrees to Double Majors

Daniel E. Hastings

In April 2008, the faculty approved the first curricular change to the undergraduate program as recommended by the 2006 Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons: allowing undergraduate students to earn a Bachelor of Science (SB) degree with two majors.

Historically, pursuing two majors at MIT required a student to undertake a second SB degree which demanded 90 additional units beyond the requirements of the first degree. Under the new double major program, students can earn a single degree with two majors by completing the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) and the requirements of both majors. As part of the April decision, the faculty also voted to phase out the second SB program.

The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) developed the recommendation to the faculty based on input from both faculty and students, including the Committee on Curricula (CoC), Diana Henderson, dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support, and students from the Undergraduate Association.  Based on these discussions, a consensus emerged concerning the intellectual and educational advantages of replacing the second SB program with double majors. The Committee concluded:

  • That multidisciplinary education has never been more important, especially as more subjects and fields of study are becoming interdisciplinary in nature. MIT’s graduates increasingly face real-world problems whose solutions draw on multiple disciplines, and many new fields of inquiry lie at the intersection of traditional fields of study.
  • That the 90-unit requirement for a second SB has only indirect educational value because there are no clear academic guidelines for those units. At the same time, the fixed-unit second SB program highlights inequities created by different high-school backgrounds, such as the absence of substantial AP credit, and limits the number of students who explore a second major. By eliminating this obstacle, more students are able to explore multidisciplinary opportunities.
  • That “two degrees” is not a good description of the current requirement since students do not repeat General Institute Requirements, nor any other general graduation requirements, in pursuing the second degree. Thus, the concept of “double major” more accurately reflects the educational content and purpose of the program.
  • That peer institutions offer double majors and there is often confusion about the distinction between a double major and a second degree. As such, there is very little practical advantage to retaining the second SB program.

Because the SB with double majors will replace the current practice of awarding two SBs to MIT undergraduates, a transition plan has been crafted to benefit as many students as possible and to minimize any adverse impact on current students.

The Registrar’s Office is leading the transition plan in partnership with Information Services & Technology, Student Financial Services, Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming, and the Office of Faculty Support. While the faculty decision mandated double majors be available for students graduating in 2010, the necessary policies, advising information, and systems will be in place for students graduating in September 2009 or later. At the same time, the second SB program will continue to be available to students who entered MIT during the 2007-08 academic year or earlier. 

The basic guidelines for the double major are very similar to the current requirements for the second SB program, including the guidelines for completing the Communication Requirement.It will be critical for students to understand that completing each major program within the new system will remain as rigorous as it is now. [Click here for a brief comparison.] Detailed comparisons, eligibility requirements, and application deadlines for both the new double major program and the transitional second SB program are available at the CoC Website.

The CoC will begin accepting applications for double majors on Registration Day of spring 2009. During the fall term, we will communicate more details about the programs with students and faculty, including guidelines on how students can identify and assess the program that best matches their needs and educational goals. Our goal is to ensure well informed decisions can be made relative to pursuing a multidisciplinary educational plan.

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