I’ve come to realize the enormous costs of pursuing my simultaneous degrees, not only in direct summer costs (housing, food and summer-session costs), leisure time, and the administrative hassles, but also in academic focus (depth of knowledge) and career development (getting a head start). Granted, there are unquantifiable benefits to my current course of study–breadth of education and the breadth of opportunities and knowledge that follow–but the costs are not negligible.
I took an entire summer in 2008 to take four Haas (Undergraduate business administration) classes, including one Microeconomics course that is required by all upper-division Economics courses. In addition to those classes, I had to complete all Economics and Haas prerequisites and seven out of nine Haas breadth requirements by the end of this semester. In short, by the end of this semester I will have taken 12 (graded) classes that I did not need to complete my EECS degree–that’s an immense cost in terms of my EECS education.
If it weren’t for my Haas and Economics requirements I could have completed all of my lower-division CS requirements by the end of my first year at Berkeley, which I still can’t yet say is the case, (I am taking CS 61C) which in last year’s environment would have qualified me for some entry-level EECS internship job. In money terms, that’s 10,000 dollars for the summer; but in experience terms, that’s the stepping stone to a much more competitive position this year, which would serve as a stepping stone to a even-more competitive position the year after.
The costs are in lost opportunities. I could have completed every upper-division CS course (+10-25k/year of increased productivity) by the end of my four years and began on graduate CS courses. I could have graduated a year or two early. (That’s another 80-160k) I could’ve gained industry work experience last summer. (10k direct earnings + 5k “increase in value” for the next job) I could’ve worked on my own projects more (I’ve always had a plan with OriginXT that’s still in my head, but I haven’t yet had the time to realize; and then there’re my Facebook projects that are all at 70% but no more). I could’ve enjoyed more life!
The cost of my economics major (alone–not including those that overlap with Haas or EECS) in the next two years is one class per semester, which is actually pretty reasonable given the more manageable workload. But that’s still four class-slots that I can use to take CS upper-division or graduate courses.
The cost of my Haas major in the next two years is seven Haas classes total and a couple breadth courses.
So even the marginal costs (the ones I can eliminate by giving up on a major) are not insignificant.
There has to be some benefits that’s pushing me to pursue these degrees. Most of them are highly indirect and difficult to quantify, though. I’m unlikely to be doing things that require solely my Haas or Econ degrees–investment banking is not my type of job, and I don’t qualify to be the Fed chair. For the most part, they’re just so I know more about the workings of the business environment than the typical engineer.
But how much is that knowledge worth? It’s impossible to quantify, and at this point, very minimal. It lets me participate in intelligent discussions about financial accounting, discounted cash flow, monetary policy or even game theory; but money-wise, it does me little good.
The one major advantage is the entry on my Resume, but after a chat with my economics professor during his office hours, I’m beginning to doubt that. He suggested that my majors show that I’m simply “fishing for majors to get on” my degree, not my breadth of education. He says it demonstrates that my undergraduate study lacks focus, and where it is focused, is characterized by extreme amounts of overlap (between Haas and Economics).
He suggested that I drop either Haas or Economics, and being an economics teacher, he recommended I drop business. Dropping Haas is impossible, and I need the Economics major to get into Economics classes more easily (otherwise I can’t get in until adjustment period).
The Balance of the Cost-Benefit Scale
The answer is I don’t know. The costs are definite and quantifiable, but the benefits are indirect and unquantifiable. The other question is whether the costs matter–is money that important? If money is the major difference, does it matter? That’s around a year’s worth of salary in difference, but I’m getting degrees in majors that require on average four years of undergraduate study. The major confounding factor is that I enjoy most of the classes I’m taking for Haas and Economics–auction theory and economic history were pretty fun–but how much practical value they have is a question. How do I evaluate my level of enjoyment?
I don’t know. I’m confused. I’m the first one my adviser knows to do a simultaneous degree across three colleges, so she has no feedback from previous attempts. I suppose if I persevere despite these challenges I’ll graduate with more knowledge in finance than EECS majors, more knowledge in algorithm optimization than Economics majors, and more knowledge in the state of the macroeconomy than Business majors, and the variety of knowledge alone should be benefit enough to compensate for the costs.