It’s a hard job market out there for new graduates; nearly all entry-level professional jobs require a bachelor’s degree, so that minimum level of education isn’t enough to distinguish yourself anymore. That means more and more people are going on to graduate programs straight out of college, and many are returning to school after years of working. And that trend, in turn, makes a master’s degree less impressive on the job market – some careers are even beginning to consider the master’s degree a basic requirement.
As the bachelor’s degree goes the way of the high school diploma, and the master’s degree takes the place of a bachelor’s like an entry-level requirement, it takes more than ever to make yourself stand out from other applicants. You can do that in a lot of ways. In some careers, like business management, work experience is valued more highly than a degree; in others, choosing a unique specialization in your degree program can call attention to your resume.
One way students can help their resume rise to the top of the pile is by earning a dual degree. A dual degree (also often called a joint degree) is an organized program that allows students to earn two different degrees simultaneously. A dual degree is not a double major – like earning a master of science in both microbiology and chemistry, for example – but two completely different degrees earned at the same time – a Master of Public Health and a Master of Business Administration, for instance.
More and more universities are finding that students want dual degree programs, and new combinations are appearing all the time. But students don’t often understand the dual degree concept coming into school, and can waste a lot of time and money before they realize that a dual degree is a right choice for them.
What Makes a Dual Degree Special?
Obviously, anybody can get as many degrees as they want – there’s no cap on how many degrees you can earn, as long as you can keep getting accepted into programs and pay the tuition. But a proper dual degree program is different.
Most dual degree programs are collaborations between two colleges, schools, or departments within the same university. For instance, a university’s law school and business school may work together to offer a dual MBA/JD. More rarely, two institutions will work together to offer a dual degree – the University of Texas at San Antonio, for instance, collaborates with the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston to take advantage of their respective strengths in a dual MPA/MPH program.
When you work on a dual degree, you’re working on two degrees from two departments or schools simultaneously, but the dual degree organization makes that process much more convenient than earning those degrees separately. The two programs may coordinate classes, make agreements on courses that can be waived, or give credit for both programs from one course. A well-organized dual degree program can shorten the overall time to graduation; if a master’s degree normally takes two years, the dual degree program can pack two degrees into only three years.
It’s important for students to realize that dual degree programs are very demanding – you are earning two degrees at the same time, after all. You don’t necessarily have to have a heavier schedule or take more classes at one, but you may want to if you want to finish in a particular time frame. You may have to be accepted into the two programs separately, and that may be challenging – you may qualify for the Business Administration program, for instance, but find that the public policy program’s requirements are different.
The best dual-degree programs will have top-tier programs in both areas, ideally – it makes sense, after all, that an excellent business school and a less-reputable law school would result in a less marketable resume. But because of that fact, most dual degree programs are extremely competitive; the best programs may only accept a dozen students a year. With that kind of competition, it can be a long battle to get into both programs and earn your degree. A dual degree is going to take not only a lot of passion but a lot of patience as well.
Many students mistakenly think a dual degree will save them money, but that’s not necessarily the case – taking more courses, and taking longer to finish, will of course cost more money in the short term. But that expense may be offset by the financial benefits of earning a dual degree.
In the longer run, a dual degree can save you some tuition money in a couple of ways. Most formal dual degree programs have arrangements to share or substitute courses; for instance, if you are working on an MBA and JD dual degree, the MBA program may waive some business law courses that are better covered by the law school. That essentially means that your tuition payments for some courses go farther by applying to both programs.
Your savings basically depend on your plans. If you can see yourself, for instance, earning an MPH and then deciding an MBA would help you, getting both at the same time will end up benefiting you financially. Dual degree arrangements usually shorten the time for each program, though putting them together still takes longer than taking one alone, so the financial benefit only applies if you’re planning to get two degrees concurrently in three years instead of separately in four years.
What are My Job Market Options?
Young professionals can expect to change jobs numerous times in their lives; the average time staying in one job is approximately 4 years, and the only long-term study by the BLS has shown that younger Baby Boomers, on average, changed jobs 11 times in their lives. As traditional careers give way to freelance and independent contract work, that number is only going to go up.
That’s where a dual degree can benefit graduates the most. Having two related but different degrees on your resume gives you a wider range of career options, both because of the variety of experience you gain and the credentials you can demonstrate.
With a dual degree, you have a few options. You may, for instance, pursue a career that makes equal use of both – using your MBA experience to practice corporate law with a JD, for instance. Many dual degrees are designed to specialize within a particular career path; a Master of Public Health combined with a degree in global studies can prepare a graduate to work on public health initiatives worldwide. Or your unique, specialized skill may give you more freedom to create your own path as an entrepreneur or consultant. If you have a degree in education and a degree in environmental science, for example, you may be uniquely suited to consult with schools on building sustainability efforts and initiatives.
What Kinds of Dual Degrees are Worthwhile?
business schools love dual degree programs, and that makes a lot of sense – there are so many varieties of business and so many fields that benefit from good business managers. Some of the most common and effective combinations include:
MBA/JD: The MBA and Juris Doctor combination allows graduates to run a business or practice law, especially business-related law. One warning, though: unless you pass the bar and get licensed right away, you may lose momentum on practicing law. Law firms are not keen on hiring someone who hasn’t practiced for a few years.
MBA/MS Engineering: For obvious reasons, having both engineering skills and managerial know-how is valuable in business fields like technology and manufacturing. The Engineering MBA combination is becoming especially common.
MBA/Language MA/International or Global Studies: For students who want to go into international business, a deep immersion in a language, or in international or global studies, can present a major advantage.
MBA/MPH: An increasingly common combo, the MBA and Master of Public Health allows students to bring administrative and business insight into the public health field, whether in pharmaceuticals, hospitals, or public policy.
Dual degrees are exceptionally useful in nursing as well, because of the wide range of options in nursing; specializations help nurses get ahead of their competition. The Master of Science in Nursing can be combined with many other degrees:
MSN/MPA: For nurses who are interested in taking on larger leadership roles, the combination of an MSN and Master of Public Administration can give students insight into the work that goes on to manage public hospitals, clinics, and care centers.
MSN/MHA: Similarly, the Master of Health Administration prepares nurses for managerial roles, specifically in health facilities.
MSN/MPH: The Master of Public Health, combined with an MSN, gives nurses knowledge of the complexities of large-scale health needs for whole populations.
MSN/MBA: For the entrepreneurial-minded nurse, an MSN/MBA combination can provide the foundation for work in the private sector, or building a business empire of your own in the healthcare field.
The Master of Public Administration is becoming a much-desired degree, with the need for public managers and administrators growing, and because of the many roles in the government and non-profit sectors, MPA dual degrees are common.
MPA/MSW: A complete understanding of social work is valuable for public administrators in areas such as public housing, food relief, and other areas that care for people in need.
MPA/JD: The combination of an MPA with a JD gives public administrators the skills they need for advocacy and regulation.
MPA/MS criminal justice: For public administrators in areas like the prison system, parole, or juvenile justice, a dual degree in some areas of criminal justice makes for more effective leadership in challenging environments.
MPA/MS Environmental Science: Environmental regulation and protection are key areas for public administration, making an environmental science (or related) degree useful – managers who know the science are simply more effective.
What’s the Upshot?
These are by no means the only dual degrees out there; the combinations are as varied as the kinds of careers graduates choose, or choose to create. Many colleges and universities welcome students designing their own combinations as well, so as you consider your dual degree, consult with the colleges directly and in-depth as to the combination that will help you the most in making your future now.
BLS, Career Changes FAQ
U.S. News & World Report article, Maximize Graduate School With A Dual Degree
Idealist article, Joint Degree Programs: An Overview