Duke Student Andrew C. on Double Majoring and What to Do in High School
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
I'm a student at Duke University currently double majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering + Computer Science interested in Python, machine learning, blockchain, entrepreneurship, marketing, film, and video editing. I also have a deep interest in sociology and philosophy, and my long-term goal is to find a way to combine those ideas with the field of computer science. I'm your average guy from the midwest looking to improve myself and find what's fulfilling.
Andrew C., Duke University '25 (LinkedIn)
Andrew's key points:
"No matter what you're going to be, it is guaranteed that you're going to have to partner with people and compromise and figure out a collective goal."
"I would tell high schoolers who are preparing for college to not really be this college-oriented."
"Do what you find fulfilling and just devote your time to that."
Q: Your extracurriculars spanned from Mock Trial and Debate to the Science Fair and the STEM society. In what ways do you think having such a broad spectrum of activities from the humanities to STEM impacted your career trajectory and/or skills?
A: Having this broad spectrum of activities has helped a lot in seeing what I'm actually interested in. When approaching high school, I just joined any academic club I could, and the ones I didn't enjoy, I dropped them in my sophomore and junior year. But this gave me a chance to really see beyond the STEM environment. I grew up experiencing mock trial, debate, and TED student talks, so I thought was a great way to expand my skill set in presentational skills and talking and also get a look into law and public policy. What I have found interesting now is computer science.
Q: Which of your extracurriculars do you think has benefited you the most and why?
A: The one that I excelled at the most was science fair because I received an international finalist placement. But I wouldn't say that the science fair was the most beneficial experience. Achievement-wise, yeah, but I think mock trial for me was the best experience. I stayed in mock trial for four years, and engaged with the team, maintained a team for so long, understood leadership, and experienced the troubles that come with managing different types of people.
I think mock trial has helped me the most as I've learned to understand how people work and how to work with people. That's something that a science fair never could have given me, so I'm really appreciative for my time in mock trial.
Q: How do you think your high school experiences have shaped what you decided to study and what internship opportunities you pursued in college?
A: One thing that sticks out to me is my internship this past summer with the Mayo Clinic. I was given free range to do whatever I wanted in this project. Mock trial surprises me in different ways, but in this internship, we worked on a project that had various checkpoints where we presented to our graduate mentors and PI (Principal Investigator).
I'm not trying to compliment myself, but it was much easier to present a logical presentation clearly. It was almost natural. When I was talking with other undergraduate researchers, they had a harder time conveying their ideas and their messages. Mock trial, in that way, was a big help, and I see it continuing every day, like in my engineering one-on-one class this past semester. It's extremely team-oriented. We present every so often, and having those skills from Mock Trial made it so natural to work in a team and present to the rest of the class.
Q: Would you say that having these communication skills or soft skills is important to any field, whether it's STEM or humanities?
A: Yeah, I think it's important to every single field, I really don't see any way out of it. No matter what you're going to be, you're guaranteed that you're going to have to partner with people and compromise and figure out a collective goal. So, these experiences with communication and soft skills, like you said, are fundamental. If you neglect that, I think you're missing out on a very big part.
Q: Has this been your plan all along, or have you been discovering your passions along the way?
A: Honestly, I came into high school with the assumption that I wanted to do computer science and STEM, but looking back, I wouldn't say I really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I assumed that computer science was something that I wanted to do. And honestly, it is still carried on to college where I'm double majoring in electrical and computer science. I'm still not really certain that that's exactly what I want to do. I picked my clubs that focus on CS, and my school was limited on what exactly we could do. So, I did what I could, but I wouldn't really say I came in knowing what I wanted to do.
Q: How would you suggest high school students who have a lot of interests begin thinking about what they want to do in college?
A: I would tell high schoolers who are preparing for college to not really be this college-oriented. I think it's almost harmful in some ways, and it will prevent you from doing things that you actually find fulfilling and that you actually enjoy. So for people who are confused, it's about what they want to do. I wouldn't constrict myself to a preconceived notion, but I was raised learning computer science: my parents told me that you should like STEM and engineering, and my parents are in the STEM field.
If you're in high school and you don't know what to do, if there is anything that does pique your interest, do it and don't do it for college. Do it because you find it fulfilling. Maybe if you find something that you're interested in enough and you do well enough in it, I guess the college that you really want to go to would be a byproduct of that.
Q: You are currently double majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Computer Science. Why are you double majoring and what is your current experience?
A: The main reason why I'm double majoring is because Duke was the only school I applied as engineering to. Every other school I applied to, I applied as computer science, so that's the first reason why I'm in engineering.
As a kid, I always enjoyed engineering related activities, and in high school, I never really had a chance to put myself that deeply into engineering. So I thought, in college, I might as well try it out. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.
My current experience in engineering at Duke is very interesting. I'm double majoring, which is actually very common. My first semester was weird. Engineering 101 was very fun, but it's not representative of what the classes are going to look from here on out. It's very inconsistent from teacher to teacher. This semester I'm taking computer architecture--which is one of the hardest classes for the ECE track--multivariable calculus, and intro to electrical and computer engineering. I would say that this is a typical engineering semester. It's been very difficult, so I can't really say whether or not this is representative of what engineering will turn out to be. I can't really say if I'm going to stay in engineering, but I can say that it is difficult.
Q: What are the pros and cons of double majoring? Particularly in STEM?
A: The pros are that you get to experience a very interesting side of computers that if you were computer science, you wouldn't have as much of an in-depth view into. So, if you're interested in that, there's so much you can explore in the ECE and CS double major. But a very big con is that if you're job-oriented, there aren't many internships for electrical and computer engineering. Even if there are, you have to be a sophomore, junior, or higher to get those. In the end, even if you are an ECE-CS double major, the job opportunities are basically the same as a CS major and you might stand out, but a lot of people say that it’s unnecessarily hard.
Q: At Duke, do you have to apply for your majors? How competitive is it with such a popular major?
A: I'm not too certain about this. When I applied to the Common App, it gave me an opportunity to apply to, like, two types of schools? I know when you apply, you select which college in the university to apply to. I'm not certain on this, but what I've been hearing is that it's really easy to switch in and out of the school. So, there's not really an application process.
But if you're in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences right now, it might be harder for you to get on an engineering track compared to if you were engineering and switching to Trinity. For the applications under the Common App, I think engineering is a little harder to get into because there are a lot more people and a lot fewer spots. I'm not sure about that, though. So that's what I know of so far.
Q: In general, how would you compare double majoring with choosing one major or having a major and a minor?
A: For an ECE-CS double major, it's really easy. If you're ECE and want to add a CS major, you have to add maybe three or four more classes. So if you're ECE and you want to do something in software, you might as well do ECE-CS. I'm not really sure about other double majors. I know I've heard of mechanical engineering-CS double major, and I think there are a lot more classes that come with that.
Q: Are there certain policies for double majors at Duke that any high school student interested in studying there should be aware about?
A: I think if you're double majoring with something in engineering and something in Trinity, it reduces your graduation requirements by a good amount. For me, I don't have to take a language, which is really nice. You can pretty much double major in anything. It depends on you to fit that into your course load. If you're in the engineering school, you can apply as many AP credits as possible, so it makes it a lot easier.
But if you're in Trinity, there's a limit on the amount of AP credits you can apply, like two or three. So, you're going to have to take a lot more baseline classes. There's also an option at Duke where you can create your own major.
Q: How do you think these specific majors will benefit you in your future career?
A: I think understanding how computers function on both a hardware and software level is extremely important. Now, with the way the world is going, computers are essentially everything. Compared to understanding how to program, if you understand a computer and how to make it on the fundamental level--e.g. what makes a computer efficient--that's crucial. It's probably going to be extremely valuable, and you'll understand a little bit more of how the world functions now. If you're really into computers, it is super helpful, but if you're not that interested, it's probably not going to be that helpful.
Q: What are some final words of advice you have for our audience out there as they find and pursue their passions?
A: If you don't have any opportunities, my best advice is stop thinking about high school as a pipeline. Being here (in college) for under a year, I can see that college is not the end of things; it's not going to solve your problems. If you think it'll get you out of a hole, it won't because being at this college there's almost a perpetuation of people who are wealthier and already have an advantage. If you know more people like that, you are instantly connected to those job opportunities and the social network here.
Looking back, I would have appreciated just doing a little bit less, enjoying my time as a high schooler, taking advantage of my peaceful town in the Midwest, and being less driven by college because once you get here, you won't really know what exactly to do. If you're somebody who has not many opportunities, I would not stress about it. Do what you truly enjoy. And if you enjoy something, like mock trial or robotics, just put all your time in that one thing. You don't have to worry about doing other things.
For the college application, I think if you dedicate yourself enough to this, you show that whatever you're doing, you actually truly enjoy. If you show that on your application, no matter if you get accepted or not, that's the best way to do it. It's much better than having a list of activities that you worked hard on, but you don't care that much about. I understand if you don't have any opportunities. I'm from the Midwest. I'd say with the Mayo Clinic, we had a lot of opportunities. But even compared to the coasts, you don't get that much, and you lack that connection with the Duke network. So if you don't have that much, it's okay.
If you treat college as the end of it all, it's not going to help you that much. So just do what you enjoy. Do what you find fulfilling and just devote your time to that.
Connect with Andrew on his LinkedIn.
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This interview was originally recorded on Zoom. Certain parts were edited for concision and clarity.