When an MBA Isn't Enough

More students are doubling up

Applying to graduate school while working for a human rights organization in Uzbekistan was no easy task for Rebecca Stich. Mail service is iffy, so she had a friend carry her applications back to the U.S. She also had to make special arrangements for phone interviews with admissions directors at odd hours to allow for time differences.

But Stich, 26, was determined. Having decided to build a career around helping people in struggling countries, she felt her best course was to earn a dual master's degree in business administration and social work. Such a degree offers her the clinical skills and nitty-gritty business methods she needs to run a social services agency. "It gives me a perspective that's broader than any one degree would give," says Stich, who's now in her second year of a three-year dual-degree program at Columbia University in New York.

Some 25% to 35% of students at many top B-schools pursue two degrees at once, up from 15% to 20% just a few years ago. Schools offer anywhere from a handful of dual-degree programs to the University of Michigan's 25--and the list is growing, as students try to beef up their skills and marketability in a tough job environment.

The most popular combined program is the four-year law (JD) and business (MBA) degree. More than half of all dual-degree grads earn the JD/MBA each year. Other popular MBA pairings: the MPP (master's of public policy), the ME (master's of engineering), and the MD, geared toward people interested in hospital administration.

Such programs are ideal for students focused on niche careers. Take Daniel Muir, an MBA/MSIOE (master's of science in industrial & operations engineering) student at the University of Michigan. His goal is to work with a large corporation in streamlining manufacturing.

Typically, doubling up takes one year less than the time it would take to earn both degrees separately. But two degrees cost a lot more in money and time than a single one. Students pay one school for the first few years of the program, then pay per course or semester to each of the two schools for the final year. That could mean an extra $35,000 of tuition at a school like Yale University to get a JD/MBA, on top of the $60,000 or more for the MBA alone.

Applying to dual programs is also twice the work. You'll need to fill out applications for both programs at each university to which you apply, and, often, take two standardized tests. You'll have to pay for the two tests, of course, not to mention two application fees--at $100 to $175 a pop.

B-school deans caution students not to expect a better salary just because they've doubled up on degrees. Given the popularity of dual-degree programs, though, students seem to be seeking more than a salary differential.

By Rebecca Weber

Edited by Toddi Gutner

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