Is a Joint or Dual M.B.A. Right for You?

Pairing an M.B.A. with your advanced degree can catalyze a strong career in your desired field.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a handful of the newest programs catering to students wishing to pursue the ever popular J.D./M.B.A. degree. This week, I'd like to broaden the discussion of joint and dual M.B.A. degrees for those of you wondering if specializing in more than one area could be the right path for you.

Before we get started, let me clarify that a joint degree broadly refers to programs in which certain coursework counts toward both degrees. On the other hand, students pursuing dual degrees undertake separate coursework for each program, but often complete the dual degree with a reduced number of overall credits. So what areas of study compliment an M.B.A. education?

An M.B.A. degree is a bit like peanut butter: It goes well with just about everything. Whatever your intended profession–writer, doctor, public policy official, or educator–a strong foundation in general management can make you more appealing to employers and set you up to easily transition into management or administration.

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To give you an idea of the breadth of joint and dual M.B.A. degree options, here a few examples:

• M.A. in Education/M.B.A.: For students pursuing careers in education management, policy, and/or technology.

• M.D./M.B.A.: For medical students interested in management, with many potential career opportunities including hospital management, HMO management, and medical school administration.

• Mater of Public Health (M.P.H.)/M.B.A.: For students interested in health policy and health care management.

• M.S. in Environmental Studies/M.B.A.: For students pursuing careers in green business, energy renewal, and/or environmental policy.

• M.S. in Journalism/M.B.A.: For students interested in media management and/or business communications.

• Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.)/M.B.A.: For students pursuing advanced public policy careers in business, government, and/or non-profit sectors.

And that's just the beginning. While the growing number of joint and dual degrees attests to their popularity, here are a few things you should keep in mind if you're planning on pursuing one:

Be certain it's necessary: As the recent Yale Daily News article pointed out, it's imperative to have a clearer purpose for pursuing a joint program than wanting more letters after your name. As current Yale joint J.D./M.B.A. student Christopher Hurtado says, "If you just want to practice law, you probably don't need the M.B.A."

Be prepared to spend longer in school: Whereas you can finish a standard M.B.A. program in two years, a joint or dual degree will take three years or longer. In the case of a joint M.D./M.B.A. program, you're looking to spend at least 5 years in school.

[See U.S. News's complete rankings of Best Business Schools.]

Be ready to pay more: Dual and joint degrees typically raise the already steep cost of getting an M.B.A. On the bright side, such programs are cheaper than pursuing a master's degree in journalism first, for example, then going back for an M.B.A. later.

Know that it will affect your b-school relationships: M.B.A. students typically develop very close relationships with their cohort, and those pursuing degrees in other departments may at times feel pulled in different directions. Of course, this can also be great for your personal development: Someone studying environmental science at the same time as business is bound to bring new perspectives about regulatory reform into an M.B.A. classroom discussion.

If you think a joint or dual degree is right for you, make sure you visit both programs at your schools of interest, and speak to current students and alums to ensure that the path you've mapped out will take you where you want to go.