The Most Common Dual-Degree MBA Options and Where They'll Take You
March 10, 2021
Few, if any, jobs require two master's degrees, but having an MBA plus a Master of Science of Master of Arts in your field can make your resume stand out and help you advance more quickly.
The MBA is the most popular master's degree in the world for many reasons. It's versatile, for one; an MBA opens broader career opportunities than do most subject-specific MA or MS degrees. Graduating from an MBA program nearly always results in an income boost, for another. And then there's the wow factor: simply having an MBA—or any graduate degree—carries a certain cachet.
The MBA is becoming more common, however, meaning that degree-seekers need ways to stand out from the crowd. Some choose MBA programs with unique concentrations. Others enroll in prestigious institutions. Still others pursue dual-degree MBAs.
Dual-degree MBA programs aren't rare; there are plenty at the top business schools. Students who opt into these programs are relatively rare, however. That's not surprising. Pursuing two graduate degrees at once is a time- and labor-intensive endeavor, not to mention an expensive one. Enrolling in a dual-degree MBA program often means opting out of the workforce for the duration of the program. It can be complicated, too, at colleges and universities that make dual-degree candidates figure out their own schedules.
Earning a dual-degree MBA in any discipline is an impressive feat. Before you can enroll in a program, you need to choose from the many dual-degree MBA options—and there are many. The full-time MBA/MD is one of the most recognizable (and practical) dual-degree MBAs, but there are plenty of others.
In this article about dual-degree MBA options, we cover:
- Why do some students choose dual-degree MBA programs?
- Do dual-degree MBA programs cost more?
- What are the most common dual-degree MBA options?
- Do dual-degree MBA programs take longer?
- When is having a dual-degree MBA an advantage?
- What are the pros and cons of dual-degree MBA programs?
Why do some students choose dual-degree MBA programs?
Dual-degree MBA options attract students serious about career advancement but also looking for career flexibility. A Master of Business Administration can help you excel in just about any field. An MBA plus a master's degree in a discipline specific to your field can be a golden ticket into management, administrative, and executive roles.
Having two graduate degrees isn't a guarantee that you'll get recruited or promoted, but it can certainly make these things more likely. Choose an MBA dual degree and you'll graduate with a broader professional network, giving you an advantage in careers that involve working at the intersection between disciplines. Your MBA will help you understand and apply business principles in your current field—something not everyone can do. Additionally, you'll have the bona fides to step into roles in your field as well as business-focused roles in other areas if you decide it's time to make a change.
Students in dual-degree graduate programs tend to be extremely dedicated and willing to work hard for what they want. Dual-degree programs are usually intensive; the shortest programs typically require students to take classes year-round. Most are designed not for working professionals but rather for professionals prepared to take time away from the working world to enroll in graduate school.
Do dual-degree MBA programs cost more?
Most of the time, earning a dual-degree MBA costs more than earning an MBA, Master of Science, or Master of Arts alone. If you're committed to the idea of earning both a Master of Business Administration and another master's degree, however, a dual-degree program can save you money. Take Harvard University's JD/MBA program, for example. The four-year combined degree program costs upwards of $160,000, which isn't small money, but a student who pursued each degree separately would pay more than $275,000. In many cases, you'll also spend less time in school in a dual-degree MBA program than you would have pursuing two degrees back-to-back. Even if you don't save money on tuition, you'll graduate and be back at work earning income more quickly.
Sometimes pursuing a dual degree with an MBA actually costs less than earning a single degree. That's because some colleges and universities calculate the cost of dual-degree programs using a mix of different tuition rates based on how many credits students complete in each discipline.
Financing an MBA dual-degree program usually isn't any more complicated than financing a single degree. The same financial aid options are generally available—i.e., federal loans, grants, scholarships, and assistantships—though be aware that scholarships and some forms of aid may not be transferable between programs.
What are the most common dual-degree MBA options?
The Juris Doctor, or JD, is the foundational law degree for aspiring lawyers. You can't take the bar exam or practice law without earning this degree first. Students in MBA/JD programs are often interested in corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, and finance. They may even plan to become corporate attorneys; this dual degree can open doors in many fields. One study of Harvard JD/MBA grads found that most went into business, not law. With this degree, you could become a practicing attorney specializing in business law or help companies avoid running afoul of the law as a mergers and acquisitions professional.
It may seem crazy to tack years onto your time in medical school by adding an MBA into the mix, but it makes sense for medical school students to pursue dual degrees. First, because medical administration is big business, and some doctors discover they can earn more by stepping away from clinical work. Second, because those doctors, specialists, and surgeons who do want to stay in clinical patient care can often earn more by opening their own practices—provided they know enough about business to keep those practices in the black. An MBA/MD can prepare you to launch a private practice, develop and market new medical technologies, or work in executive positions in healthcare administration. You might even go into healthcare management consulting.
The field of public health is extraordinarily broad, encompassing not just the policies that impact public health but also the practical application of those policies. The private sector plays a huge role in public health, creating a need for public health professionals with the business and management skills necessary to handle the planning, coordination, and administration of public health systems and private-sector systems (e.g., pharmaceutical firms and hospitals) that impact public health. After earning this degree, you'll have a firmer grasp on how the public and private sectors can work together to solve critical health and healthcare delivery challenges.
A Master of Public Policy (MPP) may seem like an odd degree to pair with a Master of Business Administration. However, consider that public policy is often heavily influenced by market forces and also that the organizations that have the most significant impact on public policy are often structured like corporations. The kinds of leadership and foundational business skills taught in MBA programs are extremely useful in government agencies, NGOs, consulting firms, and think tanks. Statistics, data science, and analysis also come in handy in the policy realm. You'll have the tools at your disposal to analyze the impact of existing policies, identify policies that are doing more harm than good, and create new, more effective policies.
This dual-degree MBA program bridges the gap between technology and business and is designed to prepare students to become leaders in the tech world. The benefits of having engineering skills cannot be overstated if you want to work in technology. A manager who can speak the lingo, understand the specs, and set reasonable project deliverables will always be more successful than one whose expertise is limited to business fundamentals. Students learn to spot problems and solve them, whether challenges are technological or related to operations, HR, business analytics, or finance. With an MBA plus a Master of Engineering, you can climb the ladder in your engineering specialty more quickly.
Pairing an MBA with a Master of Science in Nursing makes sense for practicing RNs who want to transition into nursing administration, consulting, or entrepreneurship. Students in MBA/MSN programs learn how to be leaders, make smart business decisions, and manage the ins and outs of healthcare administration. This isn't a clinical degree, which means that it won't turn an RN into an advanced practice nurse. Instead, it's designed to train skilled healthcare administrators who understand how to balance organizations' needs against the needs of patients. With this dual degree, you might become a nurse manager, nurse administrator, director of nursing, or Chief Nursing Officer.
Other less-common dual-degree MBA options pair a business degree with a/an:
- Master of Divinity (MDiv)
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (HRIR)
- Master of Science in Applied Economics
- Master of Social Work (MSW)
- MS in Development Management
- MS in Electrical Engineering
- MS in Foreign Service
- MS in International Business
George Washington University's School of Business offers a particularly long list of dual-degree MBA options. Students can pair an MBA with a/an:
- MA in Asian Studies
- MA in European and Eurasian Studies
- MA in Global Communication
- MA in Higher Education Administration
- MA in International Affairs
- MA in International Development
- MA in International Science and Technology Policy
- MA in International Trade and Investment Policy
- MA in Latin American and Hemispheric Studies
- MA in Security Policy
- MS in Finance
- MS in Information Systems Technology
- MS in Project Management
- MS in Sport Management
Do dual-degree MBA programs take longer?
The answer depends on whether you're comparing the length of time it takes to earn a dual degree to how long it takes to earn a single degree or how long it takes to earn two degrees separately. Choosing the dual-degree option will nearly always take at least as long as earning just one or the other, if not longer. However, you won't spend as long in a dual-degree MBA program as you would have spent earning two consecutive degrees. Most traditional MBA programs and other master's degree programs take about two years of full-time study to complete, but you can earn an MBA plus a second master's degree in just three years. There are even some two-year dual-degree MBA options, like the MEd/MBA program offered by University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
When is having a dual-degree MBA an advantage?
Having a master's degree is advantageous in almost all fields, and in some, you'll need that master's degree to advance beyond entry-level positions. Master's degree holders earn more that bachelor's degree holders in most industries, and MBA grads earn even more. An MBA is also the must-have degree for anyone who wants a shot at managerial positions or a spot at the c-suite table.
Regardless of whether having both an MBA and a field-specific master's degree makes you eligible for specific promotions, it will almost certainly make you better at your job. Consider the MBA/MD. With it, you can become not just a doctor, but a doctor capable of effectively running your own independent practice and then easily making the leap into healthcare administration when you want to transition out of clinical care.
You may be wondering, 'Will I earn more if I choose a dual-degree MBA option?' The answer is yes, but the salary boost you'll get probably won't be equal to the salary boost an MBA will give you plus the salary boost you might get from a master's degree—at least not right out of school. Your earning potential with dual degrees will depend primarily on what you decide to do with them.
What are the pros and cons of dual-degree MBA programs?
Pursuing a dual-degree MBA isn't easy, and you shouldn't enroll in one of these programs without considering all the upsides and downsides.
The pros of choosing the dual-degree MBA option
- You'll be doubly attractive to employers. Having two graduate degrees on your resume is proof that you've mastered not one but two professional fields, and that can give you a significant edge when looking for new opportunities.
- Your professional network will be bigger. Broader, too. MBAs graduate with valuable contacts in the business world and access to support from alumni networks. A strong field-specific graduate degree program will help you build an equally strong network in your industry.
- You'll have knowledge and skills others in your field don't possess. Whether you use your field-specific degree to inform your business dealings or use your business degree to generate profits in your area, you'll be able to outperform your peers.
- You can save both time and money by choosing a dual-degree MBA program if you're committed to the idea of earning both an MBA and a field-specific degree.
- You may end up with two prestigious colleges and universities on your resume instead of one if you enroll in a dual-degree MBA program offered as part of a partnership between schools. You might, for instance, pursue an MBA/MPA at both Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The cons of choosing the dual-degree MBA option
- The volume of work in these programs can be overwhelming. Depending on how a joint degree program is structured, you might be taking both business courses and field-specific courses each semester (making time management challenging) or cramming all your business and field-specific coursework into specific semesters (which can mean switching gears abruptly).
- It's almost impossible to hold down a job while pursuing a dual-degree MBA. Be sure to factor in the cost of lost income when calculating the financial commitment of an MBA plus an MS or MA. Any money you save by enrolling in a dual-degree program will be less than what you'll lose in lost wages.
- Funding a dual-degree MBA can be tricky, and these programs tend to be expensive. Because you won't be able to work, you can't rely on employer sponsorship. Sometimes scholarships only cover tuition associated with one program.
- You may be in school longer than you expect. While there are two-year- and three-year dual-degree MBA options, plenty of programs expect students to commit to four or even five years of study. Fulfilling the degree requirements can take a while, even in accelerated full-time MBA programs.
- Some dual-degree MBA students feel like they miss out. When dual-degree students take a mix of courses, they may not develop the kind of close connection with their cohort they might have in a traditional or executive MBA program.
The bottom line is that you need to think about ROI when looking at dual-degree MBA options. There are very few, if any, jobs that require professionals to hold dual degrees. If business isn't your primary occupation, think carefully about how an MBA will enhance your career. If your goal is to launch your own company or work in a management or leadership capacity in your field, having an MBA can be an asset. If that's not the case, however, you may find that you use what you learned in a one-degree program or the other less than you anticipated. Remember, there are other options to consider, like MBA programs with concentrations in your field and business-focused certifications. You may get as much value from these alternatives as you would from a dual-degree MBA program, saving a lot of money and time in the process.