Double Major vs. Dual Degree: Which One Is Better?

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There are countless ways to make your college degree more marketable when you’re ready to launch your career. Choosing double majors or dual degrees will definitely help a student stand out. But how does a student determine the right path? Which one leads to the best results? What looks more impressive on a college transcript?

It depends! There are benefits and drawbacks to both situations. Students should have a clear idea of their educational and career goals, which will help drive this decision. Here, we give the breakdown for both paths.

Double Major vs Dual Degree: What's the Difference?

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What is a double major?

Choosing to double major means that a student declares two different majors that often complement each other from the same program or college at their university. When that student graduates, they receive a diploma for a bachelor’s degree that lists two specializations. For example, the diploma will be for a Bachelor of Science with a double major in mass media and graphic arts.

Students who double major are able to pursue two areas of study that they are passionate about, and then they can use that unique specialization to improve their employment options. Typically, students choose a primary degree to start their college education, map out a clear path for both majors with an advisor, and declare the second major about halfway through college.

What is a dual degree?

A dual degree is more involved than a double major. Students who pursue a dual degree also choose to study two different areas; however, they receive two degrees or diplomas from different fields upon graduating. Dual degrees may yield two bachelor’s degrees from different colleges, a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the same college, or two master’s or professional degrees.

Because a dual degree includes coursework in two different disciplines, a student is usually required to apply to, and be accepted by, each school before they start college. This ensures that the student is ready for, and committed to, both programs.

Dual degrees improve employment prospects after graduation and, if the degrees are bachelor’s and master’s, often lead to increased pay.

What are the key differences between a double major and a dual degree?

There are several key differences between a double major and a dual degree. From the start, as mentioned above, a double major leads to one degree upon graduation, while a dual degree means that a student earns two degrees when they graduate.

Several other key differences include:

  • Planning. Students should have an idea before they start college if they want to pursue a double major or dual degree. Both options require a clear plan so that the student stays on track and finishes college in a reasonable timeframe. However, a double major can be declared—and sometimes must be declared per the university—later on, while a dual degree should be declared before starting college. There is a more involved planning process for a dual degree because it is for more than one program in more than one discipline.
  • It will take less time to earn a double major than a dual degree. If a student’s interests lie within the same program or discipline, they can double up on many classes to save time. For example, general education requirements are often the same for two degrees within the same college and can be counted for both majors. Universities have a limit on how many of these courses can be counted for both majors. With a dual degree, however, there is more coursework involved, which will take more time. Classes will not transfer easily between degrees, so more credit hours are required, and it will take longer to graduate. In some cases, universities offer accelerated dual programs, such as a Bachelor of Science in a business program with a Master of Business Administration in five years.
  • Because many classes can be counted for two majors, fewer classes must be taken, which costs less overall. For a dual major, students will need to take more coursework, which costs more in the long run.
  • Job prospects. Both the double major and dual degree options improve a student’s job prospects because in both cases the student is showing a range of abilities and a distinct specialization. The dual degree, however, is literally two degrees, often at two different levels of study upon graduation. Earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time means that a student graduates at a higher level, which will likely yield better job opportunities and pay.

What are some similarities between a double major and a dual degree?

Whether a student chooses to double major or to declare dual degrees, they are choosing to study two fields at the same time in college. Often, these are areas that complement and strengthen each other. For example, a recent survey of college graduates showed that the most lucrative double major was in business and a STEM field. Other times, the majors or degrees are quite different to create a unique specialty.

The similarities between a double major and dual degree include:

  • Broader knowledge. In both cases, a student gains a great deal more from their education by broadening their knowledge in areas in which they are passionate. Through a double major or dual degree, a student is able to create a unique specialization that makes them more marketable after they graduate.
  • Strong skills. Students who decided to double up majors or degrees tend to display similar skills and characteristics. They are creative and dynamic. They are organized and hard-working. These skills are what drive them to a more challenging course load and help them to stay on track.
  • Specialized career. Whether a double major or dual degree, a student can focus their education on a very specialized career. For example, someone who double-majors in art and biology might learn to draw detailed and accurate illustrations for an anatomy textbook.
  • More options. Adding a major or degree to undergraduate work will only enhance a student’s options. It’s important to map out a plan and purpose toward a career goal, but even if that original plan doesn’t come to fruition, a student who doubled up on majors or degrees now has more options, more skills, and more knowledge to draw from.

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What are the pros of double majors?

Choosing a double major only enhances a student’s skills and knowledge. A student who shows an interest in more than one area or in a certain specialization will benefit from dedicating a little more time to a double major.

A double major typically involves two majors within the same school, program, or discipline at a university. This is beneficial because much of the coursework, such as general education courses, will count for both majors. So, a student can increase their skills and education with a reasonable number of additional courses.

Because many courses will count for both majors, this also means a student is saving money. Fewer credits are required for a double major.

Having a second major also provides a student with a back-up plan. If the educational or career path doesn’t go as planned, there are other skills from which to draw.

And, as mentioned, a pro to choosing two majors is that employers will notice your drive and additional skill set through the second major.

What are the cons of double majors?

It’s important to work closely with an advisor to plan a course load with two majors. It is possible to graduate within four years, but if the second major is declared late, not enough courses cross over, or the student does not stay on track with the educational path, it could take longer than the traditional four years to graduate.

That additional course load also means a lot of dedication to classes and additional stress. Students who choose to double major should make sure they can handle the stress of additional classes and work.

And, although a double major will illustrate to employers that a student is dedicated and has a broad knowledge base, it likely will not translate to a higher or better-paying position than peers. A double major still yields one bachelor’s degree, which usually does not lead to better pay or a higher position.

What are the pros of dual degrees?

Students who pursue dual degrees leave college with two degrees. This can be either two bachelor’s degrees from different colleges or programs, or degrees from different levels of study, like a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Graduating with two degrees—especially if they are a bachelor’s and master’s—can lead to a better position or more pay with an employer.

Dual degrees require more work but often lead to more rewards in the long run.

What are the cons of dual degrees?

Dual degrees must be declared early, and they typically require admission to both degree programs. This is something a student must be committed to from the beginning.

Because the degrees are in different programs or colleges, fewer—or no—classes can count for both degrees. This means a student will take more classes. This requires more time and money for courses, and the programs often cannot be completed in the traditional four years.

Students who want to pursue dual degrees should have a clear plan in place with an advisor that shows their educational path and career goals. A dual degree will require a lot of dedication to classwork.

What are some examples of double majors?

Students can get very creative with their double-major combinations. Some combos make a student more versatile and marketable. Others are unique. Examples of common double majors include:

  • Two business majors
  • Foreign language and business
  • Foreign language and political science
  • Foreign language and international studies
  • Communication and science
  • Economics and math
  • Economics and engineering

What are some examples of dual degrees?

Dual degrees include one of the following: two bachelor’s degrees, a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or two graduate or professional degrees. Many times, popular dual degrees can be taken on an accelerated timeline, such as a five-year BS/BA plus MBA program.

Examples of common dual bachelor’s degrees include:

  • BS/BA in engineering
  • BS/BA in business
  • BA/BFA in art

Examples of common bachelor’s and master’s degree combinations include:

  • BA/MFA
  • BA/MPA
  • BS/MS in engineering

Examples of two graduate or professional degrees include:

  • Master’s/JD
  • Ph.D./MD
  • MBA/JD

Should I do a double major or dual degree?

Choosing a double major vs. a dual degree depends on a student’s passions and career aspirations.

Here are some questions to consider before deciding:

  • What are your interests?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to coursework?
  • How much money can you set aside for coursework?
  • Are you able to handle the stress of additional work?

Conclusion: Double Major vs Dual Degree

Students who are interested in more than one specialization will benefit greatly from either a double major or dual degree. This shows employers that you have drive, motivation, creativity, and dedication. It also brings a broader skill-set to the job.

To determine the right path, a student should think carefully about what they want to pursue and how much time and money they are willing to commit to the required coursework. They also should work closely with an advisor to confirm the necessary classes and schedule to stay on track.

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