Comparing Dual Majors, Dual Degrees and Concurrent Degrees

The factors your student must consider before choosing one of these options.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

On the many college tours I took with my kids, it seemed like every student guide was dual majoring or in a dual or concurrent degree program. Plenty of kids still study one major and others add a minor, but with all the talk about multiple majors and degrees, you may wonder, like I did, what they are and should your student go this route.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADual/Double Major A student picks two areas to study, which may or may not be related, like computer science/mathematics or English/business. The diploma will list both majors under one degree. Entering college with AP or IB credits can help a student manage the extra course load and graduate in a timely manner.

Pros:

  • Some courses count toward both majors.
  • The combination can better prepare a student for a specific job/career path, for e.g.: studying biology/education to teach science upon graduation.
  • Strengthens time management skills.
  • Helps a student reach a specific goal after college.
  • Creates career options.
  • Allows a student to pursue his passion in one area and study another related to a chosen career path.

Cons:

  • Some colleges/programs don’t allow courses to overlap, doubling a student’s course load.
  • The extra classes can require an additional semester or two in order to complete both majors.
  • An employer might view the graduate as unfocused or someone who couldn’t make up his mind.
  • Additional semesters raise the cost of a degree and scholarships are often limited to four years.
  • The return on investment may not add up.
  • Often requires summer classes to graduate on time.
  • The heavier class- and workload can limit a student’s opportunity to intern, participate in extra-curriculars and/or socialize.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADual Degree A student looks to earn two bachelor’s or two master’s degrees simultaneously. The degrees are in different areas, departments and/or schools of a college. A student receives a diploma for each degree.

Pros:

  • Better prepares a student entering a new field or trying to create a unique career path.
  • Employers might be impressed by the work ethic and the extensive knowledge base.
  • Both degree programs can require the same general education/core courses.
  • Enables a student to avoid paying full price for each degree.
  • Plus the other advantages of a dual major mentioned above.

Cons:

  • Usually unable to overlap courses.
  • Can be more expensive than earning one degree, especially if the college limits how many credits a student can take each semester.
  • Must work with two different departments or schools within the university whose credit requirements may not align.
  • Scheduling the right courses in the correct sequence is more challenging with two programs, especially unrelated ones.
  • Limited opportunity to take electives outside areas of study.
  • Almost impossible to graduate in four years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsecutive/Combined/Accelerated Degree I explained this degree program in a previous post, in which a student works toward a bachelor’s and master’s degree or a bachelor’s and doctorate degree in less time than if she pursued them separately. Essentially, the senior year of the bachelor’s program is comprised of the first year of graduate or doctorate courses, which count toward both degrees. A student receives an undergraduate degree after four years, then the advanced degree a year or two later depending upon whether it’s a master’s or a doctorate.

Pros:

  • Cuts a year off the time it takes to earn an undergrad and advanced degree.
  • Saves money.
  • Leads a student to start on a career path sooner.
  • Increases a grad’s marketability as she enters the job market with an advanced degree in hand.
  • Don’t have to commit to the program until junior year.
  • Eliminates the need to take graduate school entrance exams.

Cons:

  • Once committed, a student must complete the advanced degree at the same college.
  • Includes a heavier course load.
  • Limits the opportunity to change career paths, especially if degrees are geared toward a specific profession.
  • Leaves little room to fit in courses outside the major.
  • Same professors likely teaching courses for both degrees, reducing exposure to other perspectives.

I’ve known students who’ve chosen these major and degree options, and generally, those who’ve had the most career success focused on making themselves more marketable and understood their post-graduate options. They found ways to intern for credit, took advantage of opportunities to overlap courses and balanced their course loads with a life outside the classroom.

If your student is considering a multiple major or degree program, he should visit the career services office early on to determine the real advantages of taking this path.

Share your advice and experiences with pursuing more than one major or degree in the comments section below.

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