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Employers want to hire people that add value to their companies and organizations. A graduate or undergraduate degree can represent this potential value, but if one degree is good, does that make two degrees better? In some fields, the answer is "yes." But getting a second degree will take more time, work and money, so the question becomes whether having two degrees instead of one is worth the cost and effort. The answer to that depends on you and your goals. This guide will help you make the decision by providing an overview of dual degrees, including what they are and what earning one might do for you.
What's a Dual Degree?
A dual degree is exactly what it sounds like: two separate degrees. However, a dual degree should not be confused with a dual or double major. A double major is two areas of specialization or academic focus that results in only one degree, not two.
Having dual undergraduate degrees is possible, but not as common. They usually occur when a student earns an associate degree on their way to a bachelor's degree. Two degrees might also be the result of a school's policy of creating two bachelor's degrees when a student obtains a double major in two unrelated fields.
Dual degrees are popular because they take less time to earn than if the student obtained each degree individually. For example, getting an MBA usually takes two years (as a full-time student) and a Master of Science (MS) degree in engineering will usually take one to two years (as a full-time student). But a joint MBA and MS engineering degree won't take three to four years. Instead, it might only take two years – that's because many of the required course overlap, thus helping a student make faster progress through the program.
Dual degrees can be found at many academic levels, but they're most common where at least one is a graduate degree. For example, some of the most popular dual degree programs combine two graduate level degrees, like a Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Business Administration (MBA). A combination of a bachelor's degree with a master's degree, like a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Science in Nursing, is also very popular.
Most Popular Dual Degree Programs
Not sure exactly what's out there for dual degree seekers? Here are some great examples.
Typical Program Length: Three or four years.
Basic Admission Process: Completion of both the Columbia Law School and Business School applications, which includes taking the LSAT and GRE or GMAT exams.
What You Can Do with This Joint Degree: Practice law in a business setting, such as general counsel or corporate law. This joint degree can also help improve the chances of obtaining a management position at a law firm. For those in business management positions, the law degree helps provide an added legal perspective when making business decisions.
Did You Know? Students can choose to complete the program in either three or four years. Students who choose the extra year will have an opportunity to take additional classes and engage in extracurricular activities to obtain a more comprehensive education.
Typical Program Length: Seven to 10 years
Basic Admission Process: Completion of an American Medical College Application Service application, then a Harvard Medical School application, which includes taking the MCAT.
What You Can Do with This Joint Degree: Begin a career in medical research as a physician-scientist.
Did You Know? Students can choose from a variety of PhD specific fields, including programs at either MIT or Harvard.
Typical Program Length: Five years
Basic Admission Process: The basic college application process for the home college, then a later application to the Dartmouth University Thayer School of Engineering.
What You Can Do with This Joint Degree: Prepare for a career in engineering.
Did you know? Dartmouth offers two program completion options. With the first option, students spend the first two years at their home college then alternate between their home college and Dartmouth for their final three years. In the second option, students spend the first three years at their home college and the final two years at Dartmouth.
Typical Program Length: Five years
Basic Admission Process: Application and acceptance into both the Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Public Health programs, which includes submission of a GRE, GMAT, MCAT or PCAT score.
What You Can Do with This Joint Degree: Take on a leadership role in the pharmacy profession, including creation of policy to improve public health and leading public health research.
Did You Know? Students may apply to both programs at the same time, or apply to the Master of Public Health program after admission into the Doctor of Pharmacy program.
Typical Program Length: Varies, but consists of 60-63 quarter credits, which is the equivalent of about 40-41 traditional semester credit hours.
Basic Admission Process: Completion of an application, including providing evidence of a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing and a current Registered Nurse license.
What You Can Do with This Joint Degree: Engage in leadership and management responsibilities in healthcare settings.
Did You Know? Because the academic year is divided into four 10-week quarters, students can complete their coursework at a faster pace than in a traditional semester format.
How to Choose a Dual Degree Program
Despite their challenge, dual degree programs are popular. They can be found at small liberal arts private institutions or major state universities. So how do you choose a program? It begins with your goals.
You likely won't enroll in a dual degree program for personal academic enrichment. Instead, you'll probably have a professional goal for getting a dual degree. But make sure this is the best way to achieve it. For example, getting a bachelor's and master's degree in social work together might be a good idea given many states' requirements of a master's degree for licensure. But for other careers, consider whether getting a double major be a better option. Or maybe getting one degree now, obtaining several years of work experience, then earning a second degree later is a better choice.
Now it's time to choose which degrees to get. Speak to individuals who already have your desired professional job and ask them which degrees they obtained to get where they are. Research the profession online to see what others recommend as the ideal educational path. For certain degrees, you'll also need to identify any specializations you desire. For example, most MSN nursing programs have numerous specializations students must choose from, and those determine a future professional path.
Do you have a limited amount of time to earn both degrees? In that case, your primary consideration will be finding a program that can meet your short timeline. Do you have a family? How about a job you want to continue while in school? Then you'll have to either find a school close to home and work or apply to an online program that has few on-campus requirements. And if you already have a degree and want to use that to jumpstart your dual degree, you'll want to find a program that allows students with your academic background to take an abbreviated track to getting both degrees.
Now it's time to compare the cost of your education at various schools. Look at your desired class size, attention from professors, financial aid offered and the like. Depending on which degree you want, you'll also need to consider whether it's worth paying more for a certain school's reputation – for instance, someone who wants to work in a high-powered legal position might want to shoot for Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the like. But for many fields, the dual degree and the hard work that goes into it speaks for itself.
What's the Difference Between a Double Major and a Dual Degree?
A dual degree is not the same as a double major. However, there is some overlap.
How They're Similar
Students focus on two academic areas of study.
At some schools, a double major in two unrelated fields can result in a dual degree.
Adding a second major may require the completion of roughly the same number of academic credits as obtaining a second degree, such as a master's.
Students take overlapping courses that satisfy the requirements of two programs of study at once.
Students sacrifice the ability to takes elective courses.
Students must receive permission or acceptance from one or more schools before than can earn either a dual degree or double major.
Getting a dual degree or double major will be more challenging than getting one degree or major by itself.
How They're Different
Double major usually does not result in two degrees.
A double major is usually found at the undergraduate level while dual degrees often involve at least one graduate level degree.
A dual degree program is a combination of two separate degree programs and allows students to complete both in a shorter amount of time than if they attended each degree program separately.
A dual degree is more likely to be professionally useful as job qualifications may require applicants to have a specific degree, but rarely a specific major.
Getting a double major requires students to develop their own course roadmap while dual degree programs have a roadmap already prepared by the school.
The desire to learn or obtain academic enrichment is less of a reason to get a dual degree than it is to get a double major.
Schools typically have established dual degree programs that students formally apply to.
Advantages & Drawbacks to a Dual Degree
A major advantage of a dual degree program is saving money. This is because earning a dual degree is typically faster than earning each degree individually. This could mean not having to pay for an extra year or two of schooling.
Having two degrees allows for more professional options. Not many jobs require multiple degrees, but having two degrees theoretically means graduates will have twice the number of potential jobs they are qualified for.
This is probably the single biggest advantage of a dual degree. Otherwise, students would just get each degree, one at a time. In most dual degree programs, students can save at least one year of schooling time.
One of the benefits of getting a graduate or undergraduate degree is the networking opportunity. Access to alumni networks from each respective college or department, along with the connections made with classmates, will be valuable for advancing a professional career.
Getting a dual degree will be more expensive than getting a single degree since it takes more coursework. Even if a joint degree program lasts the same amount of time as a single degree program, students will be taking heavier course loads, as well as classes during the summer.
Real World Experience Still Helpful
To make the most of each respective degree, students should consider accompanying the degree with relevant experience. For instance, the benefit from the MBA portion of a joint degree program can be amplified if the graduate already has business experience.
Getting a single degree is hard enough. Getting two at once is extra challenging. Prospective dual degree students should make sure they can handle the academic rigor of a dual degree program.
Putting a Professional Career on Hold
Depending on the dual degree program, working (even part-time) will be impossible or extremely difficult while earning two degrees. And since most dual degree programs last several years, students should be ready to step away from the working world for the duration of their program.
Dual Degree Q & A
How much harder are the academic requirements?
The coursework by itself isn't necessarily harder than if you earned each degree separately, but you will probably be taking more courses at the same time. Instead of taking 14 or 15 credits, you could take 17 or 18. You may also be in school year-round.
Is it cheaper to get a dual degree than each degree separately?
Generally, yes. Even if it costs more per semester or academic year to attend a dual degree program, there will be cost savings because the dual degree can be obtained faster than getting each degree on its own.
Does getting a dual degree save time?
Compared to getting each degree separately, yes. Almost all dual or joint degree programs will take a semester, year or two years less than getting each degree individually.
How long does it take to get a dual degree?
That depends on which degrees you're looking to get and your prior academic background. A joint JD/MBA program usually takes three to four years (getting each separately will usually take five) and a joint MD/PhD can take anywhere from six to nine years to complete (it would take over 10 years if obtained separately).
How does a dual degree program work?
That depends on the program and school. Once admitted, students might spend exclusive time at one department or college focusing on the coursework for one degree. Then after a year or two, they may shift to another department or college to start the coursework for the other degree. In other programs, the student may take courses from each respective department consistently throughout most of their academic career. Some schools also allow students to "test out" of certain course requirements to further speed up the process.
Is it hard to get accepted to a dual degree program?
The more prestigious the school offering the programs, the harder it will be to gain acceptance. Also, the more unique the joint program, the fewer openings available, which may make it harder to get in. Finally, some programs are inherently more competitive for admittance, such as those offering JD and MD degrees.
Can I attend a dual degree program part-time?
Yes, but the whole point to getting a dual degree is to accelerate your learning so you can obtain two academic credentials as quickly as possible. Understand that part-time pursuit will take a long time, although should take a shorter amount of time than if you obtain each degree as a part-time student separately.
Is financial aid possible?
Absolutely. In fact, it might be easier to get financial assistance in a dual degree program that involves a master's degree, especially for those already working. This is because many employers will pay at least part of the tuition for their employees who go back to school.
Is there any reason not to get a dual degree?
For most people, no. However, it's possible that prospective employers may view a job candidate less favorably if they have a dual degree because they might view the candidate as not fully committed for the career they are trying to enter.
How much will it help my professional career?
That depends on what your professional goals are. If you're thinking about two degrees in fields you may want a career in, but can't decide on which, getting a dual degree may provide you the flexibility to make a final decision at a later time. Or if you want a job that involves two separate disciplines, like a medical researcher, it makes sense to get a PhD and MD degree at the same time.
Tips for Managing a Dual Degree
Earning a dual degree takes perseverance and hard work. To handle the inevitable stress, keep these tips in mind.
- Find friends from other classes. Students may have only a handful of fellow classmates working toward the same degrees. This might mean socializing with students you have only one or even no classes with.
- Be your own advocate. Not every school official will support your decision to get a dual degree. Program administrators understand how much harder a dual degree program is and anticipate you to have a lower GPA than if you completed each program individually (and there's the higher chance you may have to drop out of one or both programs). Why does this matter? Your success in their respective programs or departments will have an effect on the program's rankings, which school administrators care very much about.
- Get experience before enrolling. It may not be possible to get much real-world experience while in the dual degree program, so before entering, it's nice to have a few years of professional experience. This will help put what you learn in the classroom into practical perspective, as well as improve your post graduate job prospects.
- Study as hard as possible. You're probably working toward a terminal degree, but that doesn't mean your GPA doesn't matter anymore. When you look for post graduate jobs, future employers will look at your GPA.
- Prepare to network. One of the biggest benefits of going to a post-secondary institution is the connections you'll make. This is especially true for graduate programs. And since you're in two degree programs, you'll have access to twice the network.
- Seek out encouragement and emotional support. Completing a degree program is difficult and getting two at once can be twice as hard. Therefore, it's important to find friends or family members that can remind you that you're making the right decision when you debate whether to drop out or focus on one degree instead of two.
- ABA For Law Students – Are Joint Degrees Worth It? The American Bar Association discusses the value of getting another degree at the same time as a JD degree.
- Pharmacy Times – The Benefit of Dual Degree Programs This article goes over the various types of dual degree programs that include a pharmacy degree and the advantages of entering such a program.
- American Psychological Association – Dynamic Duos This article from the APA is a bit dated, but still provides pertinent information about getting a psychology degree at the same time as another degree.
- The Penny Hoarder – Deciding Between a Dual Major or Dual Degree? You Should Read This Explains the differences between a dual degree and dual major and why you might want to pick one over the other.
- CollegeVine: Which Is Better: A Dual Degree or a Double Major? This blog post discusses the differences between a double major or a dual degree, as well as the pros and cons of each.
- USA Today College – Four Circumstances When Two Master's Degrees Might Make Sense Four examples of when it's beneficial for an individual to obtain two master's degrees.
- Harvard University – General FAQ for MD-PhD Program Applicants Students interested in a joint MD/PhD degree should read this comprehensive FAQ to learn more.
- US News and World Report – Maximize Graduate School with a Dual Degree: Provides an overview of the different dual degree options available to prospective graduate students.
- Inside Higher Ed – Dual Degree Dos and Don'ts Students looking to make the most of dual degree programs should find this article very useful.
- The Washington Post – Dual Degree Programs Mean You Can Get Two Diplomas in One Fell Swoop: This piece discusses the benefits of getting a graduate degree along with a bachelor's degree.
- Noodle – MBA Specializations and Dual Degrees: Are They Worth It? This article examines the benefits and drawbacks of combining an MBA with another degree.