The Rise of the Dual Degree MBA
Once upon a time, the Master’s degree was the prerogative of only the very ambitious. But since 2000, the number of Americans with a Master’s degree (or higher) has more than doubled, growing by about 60%.
While the MBA remains the most popular Master’s degree, it’s popularity has tapered in recent years amid fears that the degree has become too common. So, what’s the ambitious MBA-seeker to do to set themselves apart? One idea: earn TWO Master’s degrees. More and more schools are offering “dual degrees”—the opportunity to pursue two degrees simultaneously, usually cutting down the time and cost it would take to earn them sequentially.
These students stand out from the crowd. At Stanford GSB, only about 20% of students are simultaneously pursuing a second degree; at HBS the figure is about 12%. While earning one master’s degree doesn’t have quite the elite reputation it used to, earning two is still a rare and impressive feat.
What kind of dual degree MBAs are out there?
Actually, there are many dual-degree MBA programs. Perhaps the most famous example is the MD-MBA, and it’s easy to understand why. In the medical field, crucial administrative positions are often filled by doctors without any management experience, or business-minded bureaucrats with no appreciation for the nuances of medicine. Neither is a recipe for success. An individual trained to understand both sides of the coin is thus an obvious choice for leadership, and can expect to advance quickly in the business of medicine.
Take Vivek Murphy, the U.S. surgeon general until 2017. He earned an MBA and MD from Yale in 2003, when the degree was still comparatively new, and went on to become the youngest surgeon general ever just 10 years later. Impressive!
Sounds great, but medicine isn’t your game? Not to worry. As dual degrees have increased in popularity, the diversity and number of offerings has grown as well. Harvard recently announced the newest addition to their dual degree programs, an MBA paired with a MS in Biotechnology, and they are not alone in creating innovative new combinations for prospective students to consider. How about pairing that MBA with an MS in City Planning, an MA in Social Work, or even a Master’s in Forestry? You can pretty much find any degree combination you could dream up these days, and at many schools (for example, Dartmouth Tuck) you can literally dream up your own and the administration will help you create it.
Factors to consider before getting a dual degree MBA
For many, this level of specialization just isn’t necessary. While you will usually spend less getting a dual degree than you would spend getting each degree successively, it still costs more time and money than getting one or the other. So here’s what you should consider before you dive in.
If you come from a highly technical background and you want to shift your career track towards management within your industry, it may not make sense for you to increase your specialization. Let’s say you have spent the last seven years of your career in a lab, and now that you have begun to gain experience managing a team and leading projects, you realize you want to move up a slightly different career ladder—one that includes management, innovation, and leadership on a larger scale within your company or industry. An MBA will help you get there, for sure. But a deeper specialization in your particular field probably won’t. The MBA combined with your technical background tells a strong story about your goals, but pursuing a higher technical degree too might make hiring managers think you are still mostly interested in technical roles.
Even without a technical background, you should consider carefully the career you are anticipating before investing in that dual degree. Will you truly be using that second specialized degree? Will you be managing teams, running operations, or utilizing any of the other numerous skills an MBA provides? Part of the beauty of an MBA is its emphasis on general management training. This is a degree that was always intended to be applied widely—from working in finance to running a business, small or large, specialized or varied.
Consulting is perhaps the best example of the MBA mindset. Consultants spend their days becoming experts in a particular market, or on a particular business in order to advise anyone and everyone. Depending on their client they may be delving into the inefficiencies of intermodal transport or the various unanticipated uses for synthetic amino acid production. And the degree powering all of this highly specialized knowledge and valuable advice? A business degree.
When a dual degree makes sense?
As mentioned above, a medical degree in combination with an MBA can be a huge advantage. An entrepreneur at a smaller startup who has to wear many hats might find a specialized degree alongside an MBA invaluable, as do many who aspire to lead advanced R&D departments or research institutes. Basically, if your dream job REQUIRES a high level of knowledge in a specific field, as well as the management training of an MBA, go for the dual degree. But if you only NEED one or the other degree, and you’re getting two in order to stand out to hiring managers, there are likely other, easier ways to get folks’ attention.
When deciding whether to embark on a dual degree program or stick to the MBA, a little business-minded thinking will serve you well. Consider your education as an investment—will the future returns be worth your time or money? Assess your background as well as the skills you’ll need in your career as you calculate whether it’s worth it to spend the extra year, or in some cases years, and usually the extra cash, to get a second degree.
MBA programs that offer dual degrees within the same institution
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