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An illustration of earning dual degrees in grad school.
Illustration by Marian Blair

If you’re a social-impact professional who is considering grad school, you may find that a dual degree program is the perfect opportunity to meet your professional goals in less time than expected. Not only will you have the chance to experience specialized education in two different fields, but you’ll also leave grad school with double the connections and opportunities than if you only pursued a single degree.

While that’s an exciting thought, you’ll want to remember that pursuing two degrees requires careful planning and time management skills. To find out if a dual degree program is a good fit for your career, read on for an overview of how these programs work and what you can get out of them.

What is a dual degree?

Also referred to as a joint or combined degree, a dual degree allows graduate students to work toward two advanced degrees at the same time.

Pursuing two degrees is not like pursuing a double major. In fact, these types of programs are most valuable if one degree focuses on a professional capacity (such as law, accounting, marketing, or foreign language knowledge) and the other focuses on issues you are passionate about (like environmental science, theater, faith-based organizations, or library science).

PhDs, Masters of Business Administration (MBA), and Juris Doctor degrees (JD, law degree) are often combined with other programs. Some common dual degree programs include: Master’s of Public Health (MPH) and Master’s of Social Work (MSW), Juris Doctor (JD) and Master’s of Public Policy (MPP), and Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) and Master’s of Public Administration (MPA).

The dual degree admissions process

To apply for these types of programs, you’ll most likely need to submit separate applications for each degree. Decisions for different graduate programs are made independently, and admission to one does not depend on or guarantee admission to the other. After you are admitted to both programs, you’ll be able to apply for dual status.

Be careful to follow each application process to the letter if you are applying simultaneously; do not “recycle” one piece of an application, such as your personal statement, for the same requirement in the other. You’ll also want to use your applications to explain your career plans and show admissions staff how your two degrees will complement each other.

Keep in mind that you can apply for additional degrees once enrolled in a graduate program, particularly if you’re refused candidacy to one when you first apply. Use the extra time to strengthen your candidacy and secure the qualifications you need to show how the two degrees connect to your professional goals.

The process for applying for two dual degrees can vary by university and program, so review the details for your specific schools and fields of interest before you start your applications.

What does a dual degree look like?

Maggie Peters was enrolled in the International Environmental Policy program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) as a first-year student when she learned about the option to seek a dual MBA degree. She “had never considered an MBA,” but after speaking to another dual-degree student, she decided to go for it.

MIIS requires a separate application process for dual degrees but allows current students to start taking courses while they apply. As a result, Maggie took business courses during her second year while she completed the MBA application (including studying for and taking the GMAT and submitting a letter of intent). One of Maggie’s favorite elements of her experience was that she had the opportunity to meet and make friends with a diverse group of students in her two fields of study, which she saw as “starting a network with future colleagues.”

Benefits of pursuing a dual degree

Diversify and specialize your education

Pursuing a dual degree allows you to receive an interdisciplinary education that will both diversify and specialize your training and knowledge. You could go on to build a career in either field on its own because you’ll be qualified in both; or you could find a niche career where you combine your mastery of both disciplines in a way that few other professionals can.

Broaden your network and opportunities

Taking courses in two programs and working in different issue areas through internships or classes will bring you into contact with professors, classmates, and colleagues from a range of experiences. This expanded network may open new doors for your summer and post-graduate plans and opportunities.

Optimize your investment in grad school

Pursuing two degrees can streamline your investment of time and money while at grad school. You may be able to receive “mutual crediting” for required courses that overlap in both programs. For example, if macroeconomics is required for both your MBA and MPA programs, you will only have to take the course once and get credit for completion of the requirement in both programs.

Potential challenges

More graduation requirements

Pursuing a joint degree requires a strong commitment to completing two programs and their required coursework. Every field of study has difficult courses, and you will be required to master the challenges posed by each program. Depending on the degrees you are combining, you may also find you need to adjust your study habits.

Managing the demands of two programs

In order to complete your dual degree program, it’s important to meet regularly with your graduate advisor to make sure you’re staying on top of your coursework. You’ll want to plan ahead to make sure you’re not taking the most challenging courses of each program at the same time, while balancing your scheduling conflicts for classes, internships, and other commitments.

Taking advantage of all the resources available to you

When you’re pursuing two degrees, you’ll have double the resources and opportunities to expand your career and make the most out of your time in graduate school. The flip side of this is that you’ll need to prioritize which extracurriculars to focus on so you don’t get burnt out or overwhelmed.

Questions and terms to look out for

As one last resource, we wanted to share a list of questions and terms that will help you evaluate your options. Answers to these questions can typically be found on school program websites or through contacting specific admissions offices.

  • Mutual crediting: Will your credits from one degree apply to the other degree’s credit requirements?
  • Timeline: How much additional time will it take you to earn both degrees? Can you complete the degrees on a part-time basis?
  • Residency requirements: Are you able to live on or around campus? Can any of your classes be taken remotely?
  • Cost and financial aid: What will your tuition be for each program? Will you still be eligible for fellowships and other forms of funding?
  • Admissions: What is the deadline for applying for a joint degree in another graduate program after starting one degree?

It’s important to carefully consider what it is you’re hoping to get out of your graduate school experience as you research dual degree programs. When you’re ready to apply, we hope this introduction will help you prepare for the next step in your career.


Planning on returning to school? Check out our Grad School Resources and connect directly with social-impact programs through Idealist.

Ángel Eduardo profile image

Ángel Eduardo

Angel Eduardo tem histórias publicadas no The Caribbean Writer, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, e Label Me Latino Journal. Mais de seu trabalho (em inglês) pode ser encontrado em sua website