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Choosing a career path is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your college journey. While a majority of students have a tough enough time choosing just one major, there are an increasing number of students who are deciding to pursue double majors and dual degrees. For these students, this choice must be weighed carefully.
Is it better to work towards a dual degree or should you double major instead? This post will answer questions most commonly asked about the differences between a dual degree and double major, discuss the pros and cons of both, and provide insight on what is the best option for you as you embark on your college journey and ultimately your career path .
What is a double major?
Some colleges allow a student to complete two sets of degree requirements and receive one Bachelor’s degree. In other words, a double major is when you graduate with one degree, but with two or more areas of specialization or disciplines. The details will vary depending on your time in school. For instance, you could earn a Bachelor of Arts degree with double majors in Marketing and Spanish with the goal of pursuing a career in international business. Similarly, a double major in Computer Science and Design could position you for more diverse career opportunities in the tech world.
What is a dual degree?
A dual degree, sometimes referred to as a double degree, is when you essentially receive two degrees. These could be either two bachelor’s degrees, such as a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts, or a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree, such as a B.A. and an M.A., simultaneously. Often, candidates receive the dual degree in less than the amount of time it would generally take to receive two degrees consecutively and independently, although that’s not always the case.
Some schools offer joint degree programs that enable students to receive a dual degree upon completion. One example of of a dual degree program in which students receive two bachelor’s degrees is the University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Program in International Studies & Business, in which participants earn a B.A. in International Studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School.
Some schools offer joint degrees with art schools or conservatories. For instance, Columbia and Juilliard offer a program in which students receive a bachelor of music in addition to a B.A. or BS. For more information about dual degree music programs, check out Dual Degree Music Programs: The Best of Both Worlds? Keep in mind that these programs are generally very competitive, and applicants must gain admission to both colleges in order to participate.
Admission to dual-degree programs, in which students ultimately receive a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree, are usually highly competitive as well. One popular form of this route is the combined BS / MD program. Learn more about this program and schools that offer it in CollegeVine's Top 25 Combined BS / MD Programs.
A dual degree differs from a dual or double major, in which students receive one degree in two different concentrations. For instance, you might declare majors in both English and Philosophy or Business and Economics. If you double major, the majors are usually within the same school. If you attend a school with multiple sub-schools, such as Cornell, your majors will usually be within the same sub-school, like Arts & Sciences.
Depending on the college, majoring in two disciplines across different schools may constitute a dual degree, and you may be required to gain admission to both individual schools. If you want to do something like this, be sure to read about the requirements at your college.
Pros and Cons of a Double Major
Choosing to double major is a less weighty commitment than pursuing a dual degree. Often, you can finish your undergraduate education in four years, and you’ll leave college having learned about two areas in detail. Double majors are generally cheaper than dual degrees, too; usually, you'll only need to pay for one four-year college tuition. It's also easier to facilitate than a dual degree, since you can pursue a double major through a single matriculation.
Still, you'll enjoy some of the benefits a dual degree would afford you. You may have more career possibilities open to you, since you’ll have knowledge of multiple fields, which could be appealing to some employers. Pursuing a double major may also keep you from "over-specializing," since you'll have a wider breadth of knowledge in two different subjects.
Sometimes, however, adding a major can require more schooling. Different majors carry different requirements, and if you aren’t able to meet the requirements for both majors within four years, you’ll need to stay longer if you’ve already formally declared them.
Moreover, you’ll only receive one degree, so you won’t have any kind of advanced standing in the job market, though you may still have a bit of an edge because of your knowledge of multiple subjects. Earning potential is usually not increased either, as it sometimes is with dual degrees.
Pros and Cons of a Dual Degree
There are many benefits to earning a dual degree. First, you will leave college with two specialties or an advanced expertise in a subject, which could increase your career prospects. Additionally, if you receive a master’s degree or doctorate as part of your program, you will likely start at a higher salary at an entry-level job than you would with just a bachelor’s.
This isn't necessarily true in all fields, but it is common in many. If your program is consolidated, such that you're earning two degrees in a reduced amount of time, you will spend less time in school than you might have, and will be able to get a head start on your career. Likewise, if the program to which you're admitted includes undergraduate and graduate school, such as Brown's PLME, you won't have to worry about being admitted to graduate school, though, most likely, you'll be expected to maintain a certain GPA throughout the program.
These programs are also generally prestigious, and admission is competitive, so employers are likely to take notice.
Of course, there are also some drawbacks to pursuing a dual degree. These programs often require more schooling than a single bachelor’s program. That means the program will likely be more expensive. Additionally, if you end up with two bachelor’s degrees, you won’t necessarily have a significant advantage for jobs beyond entry level, although you may have an edge in terms of job possibilities, since you’ll have multiple areas of focus.
You'll also need to make decisions about your future and career path early, since many dual-degree programs require you to apply before your first undergraduate year. Some 17- and 18-year-olds aren't ready to make this kind of decision. Be sure to research any program that interests you carefully, because rules about when to apply vary.
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