College requires a sizable commitment of time, effort, and money. Earning a single degree is a challenge. That doesn't mean that earning a combined or second degree will necessarily take twice the effort, however. And the rewards can be substantial.
There are several ways to complete your undergraduate studies with expertise in more than one field. You can major in one subject and minor in another. You can double major, earning a single joint degree in two complementary subjects–usually within the same school or department, such as business administration and construction management.
Or, if you're feeling especially ambitious, you can earn a dual degree. You'll earn two separate degrees in distinct fields, such as English and business or Spanish and computer science. Dual-degree programs may bridge separate schools or departments within a single university or two entirely different universities.
Dual degree programs are available at all levels of higher education, including dual bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctorates–or a combination of two degrees at different levels, such as a bachelor's and a master's earned concurrently.
A joint or dual degree conveys multiple benefits, from broadening your knowledge, skill set, and network to making you more employable. Let's look at how such double degrees work and why they might be worth pursuing.
So, what's the difference between joint degrees and dual degrees? This article explores that question by covering these topics:
A dual degree offers a great challenge but also provides great rewards. Earning two degrees at once isn't easy, but it may give you an edge with regard to career opportunities. A PrepScholar blog offers the example of earning dual bachelor's degrees in piano performance and business administration.
"With these two fields under your belt, you could enter a career related to music or business (or a career combining both!)," Hannah Muniz writes. Possessing "the fundamental skills required (or preferred) for a job in either" field will open opportunities to start a performance career or a performance management company, to join an orchestra or the orchestra's leadership team.
A dual degree in animal science (Bachelor of Science) and animal anthropology (Bachelor of Arts) could give you a leg up in qualifying for veterinary school or getting a job in a field related to animals, Indeed suggests.
U.S. News and World Report looked at the advantages of earning a dual graduate degree in law and business administration: a JD-MBA. "Lawyers are increasingly called upon to think in terms of business strategy, and business leaders spend more time than ever grappling with legal regulations, compliance, and risks," Gabriel Kuris wrote.
A 2021 Indeed article looked at "15 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a JD-MBA Degree," with national average salaries ranging from $63,891 to $147,754:
The JD-MBA is one of the most popular dual degrees. Idealist lists several others:
Requirements vary widely from school to school, but a dual bachelor's degree generally takes five years to complete.
For a dual master's degree, you usually have to apply and earn admission to both programs separately. Many schools allow for completion of a dual master's in a year less time than it would take to earn the two degrees individually.
Most schools offer only a fixed number of dual-degree programs. Some universities, including Rutgers University and the University of Michigan, allow students to propose their own dual-degree programs.
Coursework varies widely from one dual-degree program to another. Here are some samples that illustrate the range of challenges and opportunities.
Pennsylvania State University offers a combined bachelor's degree program in biochemistry, economics, and pre-med. Business classes include Micro/Macroeconomics, Managerial Accounting, and Consumers, Firms, and Markets in Developing Countries. Science classes include Principles of Physics, Organic Chemistry, and Molecular Biology and Genetics.
Texas Tech University offers a dual JD-MS in environmental toxicology. Courses on the science side include Principles of Toxicology, Procedures and Techniques in Ecological Risk Assessment, and Statistical Applications in Environmental Toxicology. On the law side, courses include Law and Biotechnology, Land Use Planning, and Agricultural Law.
Ohio's Kent State University offers a dual MBA and MA in communication studies. Communication courses include Theories of Communication and Quantitative Research Methods in Communication. Business courses include Managerial Accounting for Decision Making and Globalization and Technology Strategy.
A joint degree conveys some of the advantages of a dual degree, including expanded knowledge, a broader network, and a possible edge over other job seekers. While a joint degree may not present the same challenges and prestige of a dual degree, earning a joint degree generally takes less time, money, and effort.
Sujal Manohar talked to U.S. News and World Report about why she pursued a double major in visual arts and neuroscience as an undergraduate at Duke University in North Carolina. "Being able to think artistically and creatively and still having a very solid understanding of science is beneficial in any field you go into," she said. "It's important to have an interdisciplinary mindset when you're solving problems, and that's applicable to a lot of fields."
The possibilities for double majors and other kinds of joint degrees are virtually limitless. Indeed compiled a list of "16 Great Double Majors:"
ZDNET offers a list of its picks for "best double majors for business students:"
Make sure you do your homework before committing to a university where you plan to double major. While the practice is common at most schools, some, such as Princeton University, don't allow it.
You can complete an undergraduate double major in four years at most schools, but brace yourself for a heavy schedule: You'll probably need to take at least 15 credit hours (about five classes) per semester, and you may need to take some summer classes to squeeze in all the requirements. Many universities allow some courses to count toward both majors.
Not all, however. Stanford University, for example, rarely allows it.
PrepScholar lays out the basic requirements for earning a double major at most schools:
You may take a mix of classes from both of your major fields when earning a joint bachelor's degree. If you pursue a joint degree in mathematics and actuarial science at Ohio State University, your math classes will include Calculus III and Differential Equations and Their Applications. Your actuarial science classes will include Life Contingencies and Foundations of Finance.
University of Arizona offers a generous array of double-dip courses for joint-degree students doubling up in classics and religious studies. Up to 15 credits (five courses) can count toward both majors, including Myths, Legends, and Religion; Christianity in the Greco-Roman World; and Archaic Greek Sanctuaries.
Joint-degree programs at the master's level often have students focus on one field or the other during a semester, especially early on. Here's the setup at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, for example: "In the first two years of the program, students are generally required to enroll for one full year of study at the Law School and for one full year of study at the Kennedy School; either can come first. In the third and fourth years of the program, joint degree students are enrolled in, and take courses at, both schools."
Earning any kind of combined degree requires considerable commitment and focus. Whether you pursue a joint degree or a dual degree, you'll stretch yourself intellectually, challenge yourself with a complex course schedule, expand your network, and demonstrate to prospective employers that you're well-rounded and willing to push yourself beyond the minimum requirements.
While a dual degree offers the bigger challenge, there's no definitive answer to whether a joint or dual degree will make a bigger difference in your life. It's ultimately up to you whether to pursue a combined degree and what level of challenge you're ready to take on.
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