How Joint Degree Programs Admissions Work

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Joint degree programs let you pursue two degrees at once, but how is this different from traditional admissions processes? See more college pictures.
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Joint degree programs are designed to give students the opportunity to complete two degrees simultaneously, in less time than it would generally take you to complete both. This is different from a double major: While a student with a double major graduates with a single degree in two subject areas, a student completing a joint degree program actually receives two separate degrees. There are countless variations on joint degree programs, and these types of arrangements can be found at all stages of higher education, from associate to doctoral and professional levels of study. The demand for joint degree programs is higher than many people might expect -- for example, more than 25 percent of students at Duke Law School pursue joint degrees [source: Duke University].

Why enroll in this type of program? If you know what career you'd like to pursue once you get out of school, it may make sense to fast-track your education in that direction by getting your professional degree as quickly as possible. Or you may be interested in harnessing the value of multiple graduate degrees -- the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that graduate degree holders earn a little more than $10,000 a year over their bachelor's holding counterparts [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. Or, you may just love academics.


Whether you're driven by a thirst for knowledge or a competitive job market, a joint degree program might just meet your needs. However, because of the heavier workload involved, it's important to consider whether such a program is truly right for you. Will you have enough time to devote to your schoolwork? Are you willing to spend summers or extra semesters securing your degrees? Remember that you may not be able to take as many electives as your fellow students. Additionally, your grade point average may take a hit due to a heavier course load.

If you've decided that a joint degree program is the best way to achieve your goals, then this article is for you. The process of applying to a joint degree program is often a bit different than that of a more conventional track. In this article, you'll learn about these differences and how to prepare for them. You'll also get a rundown of some of the top and most unique joint degree programs out there today. Read on and find out how to take the plunge.



Types of Joint Degree Programs

Joint degree programs arise out of formalized agreements within universities, between universities and even across oceans. You can find them in most major universities and within dozens of fields. No matter what goals you may be trying to achieve through your education, there may be a joint degree program out there for you that could help you meet them.

The most prevalent joint degree programs out there tend to involve professional degrees. For example, plenty of law schools allow for the joint pursuit of an M.B.A., while students of public health can pretty easily find a program that will also let them get their M.D. However, many universities also allow undergraduate students to pursue joint degrees.


Generally, a joint degree program should give you a hyper-focused, interdisciplinary approach to your favorite fields of study. For instance, M.B.A. students at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business can also get a master's in environmental law and protection from Vermont Law School's environmental law program -- a perfect combination for green entrepreneur hopefuls. At the University of Minnesota, law students can also jointly pursue a master's in bioethics.

If you're interested in seeing the world, many schools partner with institutions overseas to offer such programs. Columbia University's international policy school, for instance, has a partnership with the Institut d'√Čtudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) that allows a select number of students to obtain a master's degree from each school. Both Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have established similar joint degree programs with local universities in Singapore.

Can't find anything that meets your needs? Universities sometimes allow students to design their own joint degree programs. For instance, at the University of Michigan, some students have pursued a unique combination of a master's in statistics and a master's in public policy. Of course, getting a school to sign off on such an individualized track of study isn't easy. Read on to learn about the most common admissions processes for joint degree programs.


Applying for a Joint Degree Program

Applying to become a joint degree student can get a little complicated, but as long as you stay organized, it shouldn't be especially difficult. Think of it this way: Since you're looking to earn two degrees, be prepared for two application processes. Generally, you must apply separately to each institution, school or department from which you want to earn a degree.

For example, if you'd like to get that master's in both business administration and environmental law from Dartmouth and Vermont that we discussed earlier, you'll have to apply separately to both Dartmouth and Vermont Law School. The same often goes for getting into joint degree programs within the same university. For instance, if you'd like to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania's J.D./M.B.A. program, you must apply to both the Penn Law School and the Wharton School (of business). Each school will consider your application independently from one another, since you must already be enrolled in one of the programs to apply for a joint degree with the other. However, programs at other universities may require you to apply to both simultaneously, so be sure to check the admissions details carefully.


After both programs admit you, you might then need to document your intent to pursue a joint degree through the university's academic advisory office. When narrowing down programs, be sure to check out the specifics at your prospective school's Web site. Either way, you should be sure to voice your intentions in any personal statement or interview you go through as a prospective student, because admissions officers or interviewers may be able to give you more guidance.

However, don't count on being able to jump right in and pursue your joint or dual degrees. Many joint degree programs, especially in undergraduate study, first require you to be a matriculated student at the university. If you are a current student, make an appointment with your advisor -- he or she may be able to direct you to a program that meets your goals and needs.

Because getting through a joint degree program is generally a little more difficult and complicated than completing a single degree, many universities require prospective students to meet with a faculty advisor. You may also have to complete an individual study plan or curriculum, which will outline your coursework plan for completing your two degrees within a reasonable amount of time. These steps will reassure the university that you take seriously your responsibility and intent to complete the program. Additionally, looking ahead and talking through your plans may help you tackle this somewhat tricky process.

Once you've figured out what programs you'd like to pursue and what you'll have to do to apply, you'll be well on your way to getting the education of your dreams. Read on to learn even more about joint degree program admissions.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. "SIPA MIA/Sciences Po Paris Dual Degree Program" (March 10, 2010)
  • Duke University School of Law. "Dual Degree Program."
  • Gooch, Liz. New York Times. "Asian Universities Seek Students from Nearby Shores." September 19, 2009. (March 9, 2010)
  • Idealist. "Joint-degree programs: An overview."
  • Ohio State University, College of Arts and Sciences. Advising and Academic Services. "Double Majors, Dual (or Second) Degrees, Combined Curricula." (March 9, 2010)
  • Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. "Joint and Dual Degrees." (March 7, 2010)
  • U.S. Census Bureau. "Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months By Sex By Educational Attainment for the Population 25 Years and Over." (March 9, 2010)
  • University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "Interdisciplinary Academics and Dual Degrees." (March 12, 2010)
  • University of Minnesota. "Major declaration." (March 7, 2010)
  • University of Pennsylvania. "Dual degree." (March 7, 2010)