Dual-degree programs allow learners to simultaneously study two or more fields. Students often choose this option when they can benefit from learning about multiple subjects at once. For example, aspiring teachers may choose to study education and a specific content area, like science or mathematics.
Some schools offer predetermined dual-degree pathways, while others encourage students to create their own curriculum. Many options enable students to earn two degrees in a relatively short amount of time. For example, 4+1 programs lead to both a bachelor's and master's degree in just five years instead of the traditional six.
This guide explains how dual-degree programs work, some popular options, and the benefits of these academic pathways.
What Is a Dual Degree?
Some dual-degree students complete two bachelor's-level majors simultaneously (e.g., business and economics), while others obtain more than one degree in the same field (e.g., a bachelor's and a master's in nursing). These programs can prove advantageous for learners with a specific career path in mind and students who are exploring their options in several areas of interest.
What's the Difference Between a Dual Degree and a Double Major?
Both dual-degree and double-major programs allow learners to explore more than one academic area or obtain multiple credentials. However, these two options can lead to different outcomes.
Dual degrees confer two separate diplomas. This combination may be two different bachelor's degrees, a bachelor's and a master's, or a JD and an MBA. Many students choose to pursue a dual degree in one field or in closely related fields. For example, learners may choose a program that leads to both a bachelor's and a master's in business administration or a bachelor's in business and a master's in marketing.
At the bachelor’s level, employers may not view a dual degree and a double major differently.
Double majors are more flexible, but typically only lead to one bachelor's degree with two focus areas. Students may choose to double major in two related fields, such as statistics and mathematics. Alternatively, students may decide to major in two complementary but separate fields, such as international relations and a foreign language. Even though the process only results in one diploma, many students find double majoring worth the extra work.
Double majors often have more variety, which can lead to widely different costs based on a student's choices. If the two majors are similar and students load up on credits throughout their studies, double majoring may not cost students any extra time/expense than a normal bachelor's program. In contrast, double majoring can sometimes lead to additional semesters of coursework and added expenses.
Alternatively, dual degrees typically follow a predetermined schedule and feature a more structured cost schedule.
At the bachelor's level, employers may not view a dual degree and a double major differently. However, if the dual-degree program leads to one or two graduate degrees, employers often prefer this option.
Keeping track of the difference between a double major, a dual degree, and other related options can be confusing. Some of these terms are inaccurately used interchangeably.
- Dual/Double Degree: Dual degrees lead to two separate diplomas. These may be two bachelor's degrees, a bachelor's and a master's, or some other combination. These programs typically follow a rigorous, predetermined curriculum set by the university. Dual-degree programs are designed to save students time and money.
- Joint Degree: Joint degree programs provide one degree, but through a collaborative partnership between more than one institution. For example, students may earn a joint bachelor's degree in international business by studying at the University of North Florida and Kedge Business School in France.
- Concurrent Degree: Like dual degrees, concurrent degrees lead to more than one diploma. However, while dual-degree programs are optimized to save students time and credits, concurrent degrees are effectively the equivalent of earning two separate degrees at the same time, with few options to shorten completion time or lower credit requirements.
- Dual/Double Major: Double majors lead to one diploma that focuses on two fields of study. Students can create a flexible, customized course of study based on their interests. These programs are typically only available at the bachelor's level.
How Do Dual-Degree Programs Work?
Dual-degree programs typically follow a fairly predetermined structure to ensure students graduate on time with all of their required credits. Some credits may be applied to both programs, although different schools have different requirements.
Dual-degree programs are designed to save students time, which can also help them save on tuition.
For example, learners pursuing dual bachelor's degrees from Lehigh University must earn 30 credits beyond their first degree to earn a second degree. In bachelor's-master's programs, students in their senior year may take some graduate-level courses that meet both undergraduate and graduate requirements.
Dual-degree programs are designed to save students time, which can also help them save on tuition. For example, instead of completing a discrete bachelor's program and then a discrete master's program, which often takes about six years, many bachelor's-master's dual-degree programs can be completed in just five years. This also allows students to enter the workforce and start earning a professional wage sooner.
Learners typically take classes in multiple departments at the same college or university. However, some options may also feature classes with partner institutions. Before applying to programs that span multiple institutions, make sure you completely understand and are able to meet any travel requirements. Some programs may be offered entirely online, while others may require in-person attendance at multiple locations.
- More structured
- Leads to two separate degrees
- Students may be limited to dual degrees designed by the school
- Can lead to two bachelor's degrees, a bachelor's and a master's, two master's, or another combination
- Students may need to apply for a specific dual-degree program at the start of their studies
- Typically benefits learners with a specific career in mind
- More flexible
- Leads to one degree with two areas of focus
- Students can often choose their combination of majors
- Leads to one bachelor's degree
- Students typically follow the standard admissions process and may add another major later on
- Can benefit both learners with a career in mind and learners who are exploring multiple potential careers
How Do You Get Into a Dual-Degree Program?
The application process varies significantly by school and program. Since dual degrees feature a rigorous curriculum to ensure students meet all credit requirements on time, candidates often need to apply to that particular dual-degree program rather than seeking general admission to the college or university.
At the bachelor's level, many schools accept learners through general admission and then allow them to add a dual degree later on. Learners start one program, then select a dual degree by the beginning of their third year of enrollment.
Although less common, a few master's programs allow students to begin one graduate program and add a second master's after the first or second semester. Others require candidates to apply separately to both programs.
Depending on the school, students may need to enroll in an existing dual-degree program. Other students may have the freedom to create their own option.
What Are Popular Dual-Degree Programs?
Common dual-degree programs may lead to two bachelor's degrees, a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, or a graduate degree and a professional degree.
Universities tend to set limitations on what is available in dual-degree programs, although learners usually have some level of flexibility. Colleges may give students the freedom to combine any two programs or limit students to only a few predetermined choices. Check with your desired school for more information.
Certain areas of study lend themselves well to a dual degree. This section explores some of the most popular options at each degree level.
Bachelor's Dual Degrees
At the bachelor's level, many students choose a double major over a dual degree. Most colleges tend to offer dual bachelor's-master's programs (see below) rather than dual bachelor's-bachelor's programs. At the bachelor's level, employers often do not distinguish between a double major and a dual degree.
Students often pursue two different subfields of one larger discipline. For example, engineering students may choose a double major in mechanical engineering and aeronautical engineering. Other students choose two different majors that work toward a common career goal. For example, aspiring math teachers may choose to major in both mathematics and education. Other learners simply choose two areas they are interested in exploring.
Some schools, such as the University of Michigan, offer an impressive array of dual degrees across business, the arts and sciences, and music. Even if a program does not currently exist, you can speak with an advisor to see if it is possible to create your own curriculum.
Below, you can find a few examples of double-major and dual-degree programs at the bachelor's level.
- Common Programs
Two closely related fields:
- BS in biology/BS in chemistry
- BA in liberal arts/BFA
- BA in business administration/BA in marketing
- BSN/BS in healthcare management
- BA in public health policy/BS in public health science
- BS in computer science/BA in game design
- BS in computer science/BS in software engineering
Two different but complementary fields:
- BA in international relations/BA in a foreign language
- BA in psychology/BA in criminal justice
- BA in economics/BA in political science
- BA in economics/BS in mathematics
- BA in education/BA in English
- BA in education/BS in mathematics
- BA in education/BS in biology
Two unrelated fields:
- BA in liberal arts/BS in engineering
- BS in biology/BA in a foreign language
- BA in psychology/BA in a foreign language
Bachelor's-Master's Dual Degrees
Although exact options vary by school, many universities offer 4+1 programs that help students earn both a bachelor's and a master's in just five years (four years at the bachelor's level and one year at the master's level). Common areas of study for this option include nursing (BSN to MSN), business (BA/MBA), computer science (BS/MS), and social work (BS/MSW).
Students in 4+1 programs often pursue the same or similar fields for both degrees. Sometimes, students gain a generalized education during their bachelor's program and then specialize during their master's program. For example, a student may earn a dual bachelor's in computer science and master's in cybersecurity.
Some fields, particularly engineering, feature 3+2 programs. During these programs, students take three years of liberal arts education and two years of master's coursework. Schools may offer these programs in partnership with other institutions. Carleton College, for instance, offers a 3+2 program in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis.
However, students aren't always limited to pursuing a bachelor's and master's in the same field. Rochester Institute of Technology, for example, allows students to propose their own dual bachelor's-master's degree program.
Below, you can find a few examples of dual bachelor's-master's programs.
- Common Programs
- BSN/MSN (also known as a BSN-to-MSN program)
- BS in social work/MSW
- BA in business/MBA
- BS in computer systems engineering/MS in computer science
- BS in public health/MPH
- BS in statistics/MS in applied math and statistics
- BA in international relations/MA in international affairs
- BA in justice and law/MA in counterterrorism and homeland security
- BA in political science/MPA
- BA in business administration/MBA
- BA in accounting/MS in accounting and finance
- BS in biology/MS in biochemistry
- BA in business/MS in sport management
- BS in journalism/MS in mass communication
- BA in economics/MA in economics
Graduate and Professional Dual Degrees
Although dual master's programs are less common, learners can still find a variety of options. Most of these programs revolve around business or public administration, but universities also offer other combinations.
Many schools encourage business students to supplement their MBA with an additional master's degree. Options include public administration, finance, international relations, and information technology. These programs benefit learners interested in one particular industry or aspect of business administration.
Since many lawyers and doctors enter private practice, JD/MBA programs and MD/MBA programs are particularly popular. Many other fields, such as biotechnology and pharmacology, feature a doctorate/MBA or MS/MBA.
Rather than pairing their master's with an MBA or MPA, students can also seek out dual master's degrees in their particular field. For example, students at Carnegie Mellon University can pair their master's in architecture with a master's degree in construction management, sustainable design, urban design, architectural design, building performance, or computational design.
Some schools allow learners to combine two seemingly unrelated programs. For instance, Rutgers University permits law school students to pursue a master's or doctorate in fields such as art history, osteopathic medicine, and global affairs.
Although a few schools allow master's students to combine any two programs, the majority maintain a set list of dual degrees. Interested students should research course offerings and talk to an admissions advisor.
Below, you can find a few examples of dual graduate and professional programs.
- Common Programs
- MBA in public policy/MPP
- MBA/MS in finance
- MBA/MA in international relations
- MBA/MS in information technology
- MD in public health/MPH
- MS in architecture/MA in urban design
- JD/MA in labor and employment relations
- JD/MPA in public administration
- MBA in pharmacy/Pharm.D.
- MPA/MS in city and regional planning
- MA in Christian ministry/MA on theological studies
- M.Ed. in educational leadership/M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction
Is a Dual Degree Right For You?
While dual-degree programs feature many advantages, including the ability to study multiple fields, they also come with their own drawbacks. Many of the advantages and disadvantages are related to taking a higher number of credits in a shorter amount of time. Consider your personality, study habits, and career goals to determine if these options suit your needs.
- More Career Options: Earning a dual degree can lead to more available career paths. Graduates with dual bachelor's degrees can pursue jobs in more than one field, while those with a bachelor's and a master's can access more advanced jobs.
- Shorter Time to a Master's: Students who pursue a dual bachelor's-master's program can graduate in five years instead of six years.
- Time Management Skills: Given the relatively intensive nature of their program, dual-degree students often develop excellent time management skills.
- Interdisciplinary Background: Having skills and experience in different but interconnected fields can make graduates more attractive job candidates.
- Higher Stress: Dual degrees inherently require students to complete a more intensive program of study. Students trying to earn a large number of credits in a short amount of time can experience high levels of stress.
- Less Flexibility: Students may be locked into a stricter schedule with less wiggle room for retaking classes or selecting free electives. Additionally, if a student fails to complete prerequisite classes in the correct order, they may be unable to stay on their initial timeline. This could result in an extra semester of courses, which would also cost more. It is important that dual-degree students stay in regular contact with their academic advisor.
Interview With a Dual-Degree Student
Abby Stoddard is a pharmacist with 10 years of experience. Abby was a principal state lobbyist, directing advocacy, lobbying, and policy work across 13 states. Excited by the burgeoning prospect of medical cannabis and hemp, and the potential to impact the prescription drug and insurance spaces, Abby shifted from pharmacy benefits to the cannabis industry. She founded The Client Centered Network (a medical cannabis resource site) and Lena Botanicals (a hemp skincare retailer).
- What made you decide to pursue a dual degree?
I began my pharmacy career as a pharmacy technician in a typical, chaotic 24-hour Walgreens — 500+ prescriptions per day, two drive-through lanes, phones ringing off the hook. I loved the fast-paced atmosphere, interacting with patients every day, and being a part of healthcare in the "real world." Call me crazy, but that's what drove me to start pharmacy school!
Once I started school, my eyes were opened to all of the things possible in the prescription drug and pharmaceutical space, which was an even bigger picture. After talking to several mentors and alumni, I decided a dual degree would be the best way for me to keep my options as broad as possible throughout my career.
- Why did you choose a doctorate of pharmacy/master of business administration program?
A pharmacy degree is a natural pairing with several other fields: IT, public health, law, and business. I chose the MBA degree because my interest was initially in the insurance and managed care spaces. Many of my mentors in those fields had both a Pharm.D. and an MBA.
- Did you compare different schools and programs? If so, what factors did you consider? How did you end up choosing your program at the University of Minnesota?
For me, the main decision point was whether to complete my MBA as part of the dual-degree program at the University of Minnesota or if I would start a part-time MBA program once I began practicing as a pharmacist.
It came down to momentum and a lifestyle decision. I had several friends who were working full time and in part-time grad school programs, and I saw how it impacted their lives. I chose the dual-degree program to get everything done at once. There are definitely trade-offs in that decision as well, but it was the right one for me.
- How did your program work? What was the curriculum like?
I was only the third person to go through the Pharm.D./MBA program, so I was a bit of a guinea pig for the curriculum. The program rotated between full-time pharmacy classes and full-time MBA classes semester by semester. I also had extensive clinical experiences to complete for the pharmacy program, so those were rotated with the coursework in the business school.
Very few courses met requirements for both degrees, but in the last half of the program I was able to take evening and online courses at the business school, which allowed me to keep working on my pharmacy experiential requirements more easily.
- How was your program different from completing a Pharm.D. and MBA separately?
In my opinion, the main difference is what the full-time MBA program exposes you to versus the part-time program. Being in the full-time program allowed me to attend more job fairs, networking events, and conferences that broadened the scope of industries I could pursue.
In the part-time program, you have less time for those activities, which might make it a better fit for someone who wants to advance in their current industry versus exploring new industries.
- How long did it take you to complete the program? Is that a typical length of time for graduates of your program?
The doctor of pharmacy degree is a four-year program, and the master of business administration is a two-year program. I was able to complete both in five years.
- What did you like about your dual-degree program?
I loved meeting and working with other MBA students, since that program drew from all sorts — engineers, lawyers, marketers, accountants. The pharmacy program was great, but it was a much more insular group. It was great to meet and learn with colleagues with a huge variety of experiences.
- What were some challenges in completing a dual-degree program?
The number one challenge was the financial commitment. Pharmacy school itself is four years, so the student loans I was taking out for that program were no joke. I had to carefully weigh the cost of additional loans for the business degree versus the benefits of the full-time program and where I wanted to be in the next five years.
- Do you feel your program helped advance your degree? Was it worth the time and effort?
I have no regrets about the dual-degree program. I still have a long way to go in my career, but I think it has helped me get further faster than my peers. In the interview for my first job in the insurance space, my future boss told me she wouldn't even be talking to me if I didn't have both degrees, so I know it worked!
- What advice would you offer students considering a dual-degree program?
Search your heart as best you can for the benefits and trade-offs. Talk to as many people in the program, in your industry, and in your life about it as you can. It's easy to get tunnel vision around your one-year, three-year, and five-year plans, but take a breath and consider it from all angles.
- Anything else you think students should know about dual degrees?
A dual-degree program is great, but even then it's not the end of your education! Prepare to always be learning, growing, and developing professionally throughout your career.
How Do I Choose a Dual-Degree Program?
If you have a particular school in mind, you should research the dual-degree programs they offer. Many schools feature an array of dual-degree options.
For instance, the University of Pennsylvania offers several dual-degree options, and 30% of students at Penn's Wharton School of Business earn more than one degree. Other schools let learners customize their curriculum and create their own dual-degree pathway.
You should also consider your career goals and explore how a dual degree or double major might help you advance in your desired field. For instance, students interested in becoming lawyers may choose to double major in pre-law, history, English, and/or politics. Alternatively, students who want to launch their own tech startup might consider a dual BS in computer science and MBA program.
You can use a dual degree to leverage multiple career options. If you're interested in jobs in both professional writing and international relations, for instance, you may decide to major in both. You may find jobs in either field, or you may find a job where both skill sets are useful.
When considering schools, you can deliberately select schools that offer degrees in both of your fields of interest. If you have one particular goal in mind, searching for schools with a bachelor's and master's in that area can set you up for career success with future employers.
Opportunities and rules vary by school, so contact admissions departments to learn more about potential options and limitations.