More and more universities are offering joint or dual degree programs – programs that lead to two separate degrees upon graduation. Popular combinations include an M.A. or M.S. with a J.D. or M.B.A., or a master’s in public administration with a degree in public health, environmental studies, economics, education – almost anything.

From a student’s point of view, the main advantage of dual degree programs is that they can earn two degrees in less time than it would take to earn them separately. For example, a dual degree program leading to an M.A. in international relations and an M.B.A. might take three years, whereas the two individual degree programs would take four. This saves the student who wants both degrees both time and money.

Is a dual degree program right for you? One issue to consider is why you want both degrees. Are both degrees really necessary or helpful for the work you want to do? Or are you drawn to the dual degree option for emotional reasons – is it a way to avoid having to choose between pursuing the degree you want and the one you think you should have?

Something else to keep in mind is that, if you enter a dual degree program, you might find yourself dealing with two quite different school cultures. A school of business will probably have different performance standards, a different atmosphere, and a different approach to research and writing than you find at a school of international relations. Will you be happy going between the two? Will coping with different sets of expectations be a drag on your academic performance?

Happily, many schools allow students to start off in a single degree program and then convert to a dual degree program. This allows students more time to think about what they want to do, and to get a first-hand look at the degree program they are thinking of adding, before making any commitment.

For more information on dual degree programs, see our feature article “Doing the Dual: Is a Joint or Dual Degree Program Right for You?”