Dual Degree vs. Double Major: What”s the Difference?

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Dual Degree vs. Double Major: What”s the Difference?

November 25, 2020

Share on Social

Students interested in two fields of study can pursue a double major or earn dual degrees, depending on their academic and professional goals. Double majors are usually only available at the undergraduate level, while dual-degree programs are also popular at the graduate level; graduate programs may feature intensive tracks that cater to students' growing preference for a specialized education.

This guide covers how to double major in college and what characteristics to look for in a dual-degree track. You'll also learn about the key differences and similarities between these two academic options.

What Is a Dual Degree?

Highly motivated students can enroll in a dual-degree program to earn two separate credentials, such as a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of fine arts or a bachelor of science and a master of business administration.

The two degrees are typically distinct but may complement each other based on a student's career objectives. For example, some universities offer dual-degree tracks that award an MBA and a master of science in information systems, preparing graduates for careers as IT managers and executives.

While degree requirements differ depending on the dual-degree program, they typically include some course overlap that reduces the total number of credits a student must earn. In general, learners must complete at least 150 credits to earn two bachelor's degrees or a bachelor's and a master's degree, and 60 credits to earn two master's degrees. Students cannot usually create their own dual-degree programs and must instead choose from predefined options.

Examples of Dual Degrees

What Is a Double Major?

Students who double major earn one degree in two academic disciplines. The credit total typically remains the same as for a single-topic degree (at least 120 credits for a bachelor's), and students who plan their studies carefully may not need to spend additional time in school to complete a double major.

Pursuing a double major allows students to develop a more comprehensive skill set. Popular bachelor's options include economics and statistics, business and psychology, and political science and a foreign language.

Although students may find some double-major tracks at the graduate level, the inherently specialized nature of master's and doctoral education means these opportunities are limited. Students interested in a diversified graduate-level education normally opt for a dual-degree program instead.

Examples of Double Majors

Dual Degree vs. Double Major: Overview

Dual Degree Double Major
Length Five years for two bachelor's, five years for a bachelor's and a master's, and three years for two master's. The same amount of time it takes for a single-major degree.
Credits About 150 credits for two bachelor's or a bachelor's and a master's, or 60 credits for dual master's degrees. The same number of credits it takes for a single-major degree.
Cost While more course requirements result in higher tuition overall, most dual-degree plans include overlapping classes that can help students save money. The same price as a single-major degree based on the university's tuition rates.
Requirements Curricular requirements vary by program. Students usually need to fulfill practicum and capstone requirements for both degrees. Curricular requirements vary by program. Students generally only need to complete the capstone requirements for one major.
Result Two separate degrees. One degree with two areas of specialization.

Is a Dual Degree or a Double Major Better?

The exact benefits of a dual degree or a double major will depend on your academic history and career objectives, but both can prepare you for professional success.

You can find dual-degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Double majors, by contrast, are more common in bachelor's programs, and many colleges provide these options to accommodate the growing number of first-year students with a significant number of AP and IB credits.

Which Credential Do Employers Prefer?

The perceived value of a double major or dual degree differs by employer. Some companies may not be overly impressed by a double major, while others may only value dual degrees if they are at the graduate level and help workers qualify for industry certification.

Liberal arts undergraduates who earned a second major in a STEM field make an average of almost 10% more than their single-major counterparts.

In some instances, having a degree with a double major may lead to a salary advantage. For example, an analysis published by The Conversation revealed that liberal arts undergraduate students who earned a second major in a STEM field went on to make an average of 9.5% more than their single-major counterparts.

Your academic credentials let you fulfill minimum hiring criteria and help you tell a story that can differentiate you from other applicants; however, your employability and salary potential largely hinge on your industry, applicable skills, and relevant work experience.

Should You Pursue a Double Major or Dual Degree?

Dual-degree and double-major programs let you study two subjects in detail, but you should only earn two complementary credentials if you're preparing for a specific career path. Although a dual-degree program may save you money in the long run, the program costs more in the short term. Earning two degrees also keeps you in school longer, delaying full-time job opportunities.

Double majors are more popular among undergraduates because they allow learners to explore two distinct academic disciplines. Students have increased intellectual freedom and can find innovative ways to apply theories and methods across multiple fields of study. A study published by The Chronicle of Higher Education found that double majors tend to be dynamic thinkers with an aptitude for creative problem-solving.

Dual Degree

Pros

Allows you to gain in-depth knowledge and develop applicable skills in two disciplines, resulting in two complementary credentials Dual degrees can diversify your career options, since you build a multidisciplinary skill set Students who pursue a graduate degree as part of their program may qualify for managerial positions

Cons

Earning dual degrees requires not only an additional investment of money and time but also two separate admission processes While they may lead to more career prospects, dual degrees do not guarantee a higher starting salary

Double Major

Pros

Allows you to study two academic disciplines without paying more in tuition Prevents you from overspecializing in one subject area, which can open the door to diverse academic and professional opportunities Because some classes can be applied to multiple majors, students may even find ways to triple major

Cons

Some employers do not take note of double majors, particularly if one of the majors is unrelated to the job at hand If students don't schedule their classes very carefully, they may need to spend more time in school

Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

With over 100 HBCUs across the country, there are many options for students to choose. Learn why from current HBCU students. Student debt is a significant issue for HBCU students. Learn how to use HBCU Wall Street's tools and resources to combat financial challenges. There are many facets to advising and supporting college students. Learn from an expert how they approach advising HBCU students and set them up for success.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.