Should You Pursue a Dual Degree? Resources, Advice & Questions Answered

Written by

Shannon Lee Read bio

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.

Quiz: Is a Dual Degree Right for Me

The following quiz is designed to help you decide if getting a dual degree is worth it. Please answer each question with a "yes" or a "no."

Most Popular Dual Degree Programs

Not sure exactly what's out there for dual degree seekers? Here are some great examples.

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.

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

  • Long-Term Cost

    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.

  • Professional Flexibility

    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.

  • Saving Time

    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.

  • Networking

    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.

  • Short-Term Cost

    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.

  • Intense Studying

    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.

Additional Resources

Take the next step towards your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

Woman working at desk