Do dual degree programs, such as those that join a graduate business degree with a law degree (MBA/JD), make sense for students? Many applicants may wonder if these combined degrees are worth the time, effort and expense. The simple answer is:
Dual degree programs are proliferating at universities around the country and have been driven by increased student requests. “It’s definitely a function of supply and demand,” said Michael States, Assistant Dean for Admissions at the University of North Carolina’s School of Law. “Schools are offering a wider range of dual degree programs because students are asking for them.”
What may have begun as an accommodation for specific students or large employers is now a key marketing tool. Many schools are using dual degree programs as a way to reach a greater number of prospective students by offering a broader range of degree options. Dual programs are being promoted on university websites and in promotional materials as evidence of the variety of choices a specific school has to offer.
For students, dual degree programs may represent a savings of both time and money when compared to the option of pursuing the same two degrees individually. Most dual MBA/JD programs, as an example, can be earned in four years as opposed to the five years it would take to earn them separately. Dual programs usually require that students be enrolled full time and that they take at least some of the course work outside of the traditional academic year, typically during summer school. Regardless, the schedule and the course load necessary to complete a two-degree program simultaneously will require a high level of commitment on the part of the student.
So when does a dual degree make sense? Senior Consultant Heike Spahn, a former Assistant Dean at University of Chicago Law School, says that “if the applicant has a very specific career goal, or if they have a passion for a particular area, then a dual program might be the right choice.” As examples, Spahn points to students who may want to combine their law degree with a masters degree in accounting for a career as a corporate tax attorney, or a business school candidate with a strong interest in medical care who combines an MBA with a Masters of Health Services Administration. “As an applicant for these programs, you have to be very clear on why you want both degrees,” says Heike. “When applicants tell me that they want to get a dual degree because they think it’s ‘cool’, I know that they haven’t yet recognized all of the work – and money – that goes into completing these types of programs.”
Some applicants are under the misconception that dual programs offer an easier way to gain acceptance into a specific graduate school. The truth, however, is very different. “Most dual programs require acceptance from both departments. An MBA/JD candidate will typically have to meet standards on both the GMAT and the LSAT as well as having the background, work experience and academic achievement record to needed to get into each program separately,” says Heike. Since any two departments may be looking for very different things, “it’s sometimes difficult to be a strong candidate in both disciplines.”
So if dual programs are not an easy way in, does it increase your career chances on the way out? Again, the answer needs to be qualified. “If you are looking to work for a law firm that specializes in corporate tax law, then having an MBA/JD may be an advantage, but if the firm has a more general practice, then it may not be that attractive,” commented Heike. “The degree you have is going to be looked at in the context of many other factors that go in to making a hiring decision.”
Michael agrees. “A lot of students have a good idea about the area of law they want to study and they think that having another degree will help them to be more marketable.” But he adds that “any area of law that a student may want to specialize in is covered in the coursework of most law degree programs.”
While a dual degree may be a good option if you have a very specific career path in mind or if you have a passion for a particular area of study, it may be a good idea to wait until you are sure before adding a second degree. “Many programs allow you the flexibility of adding a second degree,” says Michael. “You may need to take the time to learn what you want to do, so wait until you are sure about it before deciding on a dual degree approach.”
If a graduate law or business degree is what you are after, and if you have a particular area that you wish to concentrate your career on, then whatever you’re looking for, there is probably a dual program offered at any number of universities. These programs are difficult to get into and they are equally difficult to complete. It takes a high level of commitment and a clear understanding of your career goals to be successful. So be sure you clearly understand the requirements of any program beyond the pictures on a website or the summary in the recruiting brochure before making a decision.