How to decide if you should apply for a joint degree program in graduate school

Guest post by Catherine, Consultant for The Art of Applying

Should you apply to a joint degree program?

With job applicants these days racking up more and more credentials, many applicants are seeking multiple degrees. A joint degree, also sometimes called a dual degree or concurrent degree, can be formal or informal but they always require a lot of advance planning. Every school, and every program, has different requirements. If you have the time, energy, and intellectual curiosity, the rewards can be great.

Career Benefits

A joint degree can provide skills and connections that give you an advantage on the job market. Adding a substantive degree, such as an M.A. in Middle East Studies or M.S. in Bioengineering, to a more general degree, such as a JD or MBA, demonstrates to employers that you have both the quantitative or legal skills they are looking for and expertise in a particular region or field.

Intellectual Benefits

Even if the immediate career benefits are not entirely clear, a joint degree may still be the right choice for you if your intellectual curiosities and passions fall at the intersection of two fields. Higher education is, after all, about more than career prep. And who knows? You may blaze a new trail with your innovative use of a joint degree. These programs encourage you to approach problems from multiple angles, teach you diverse styles of professional writing, and force you to navigate different sets of goals, assumptions, and styles of inquiry.  Those skills will serve you well in any field.

Cost

Often, a joint degree will require additional tuition funds or an additional year of study, which could have a short-term impact on your earnings. However, creative applicants may be able to earn a second degree without spending any additional money! Some top JD programs, for instance, offer scholarships and financial aid that can be used to pay for a three-year JD/MA. Some funded PhD students may be able to get a second degree without paying anything at all. The best way to get this information is to talk to current and former joint degree students and others who know the specifics of your target schools, because each program is idiosyncratic.

Time

Occasionally, you will be able to complete an additional degree without spending an extra year in school, especially if both programs will cross-count course credit. This is most likely to be the case if you are adding a one-year master’s degree onto another program. However, most joint degrees will require an additional year or more.  This may not seem like a big deal when you’re applying, but it can be a downer when your friends and classmates move onto ‘real’ jobs and you are still in the classroom. At the same time, it’s important to invest in yourself.

Logistics

For some people, pursuing a joint degree means dividing time between two different schools, which may be in different cities or even on different coasts. This is manageable, but know going into it that you’re committing to moving across town or the country once (or more). If this is not feasible family-wise or financially, consider limiting your scope to programs within the same metropolitan area.

If a joint degree isn’t right for you, you may still be able to take advantage of flexibility in your graduate program to take courses in another department and achieve some of the some benefits.

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