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
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
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.
– Senior Consultant Heike Spahn served as Associate Director of Admissions and Assistant Dean of Financial Aid at the University of Chicago Law School. She holds her J.D. from the Valparaiso University School of Law, where she later served as Assistant Dean of Admissions.