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Grad School Feed - Apr 30th, 2008
Stretching your Joint: Prepare for Long-Term Fitness
By Steve Ander

It is standard economics: When a firm faces stiff competition, it diversifies to attract new consumers, yet maintain its current ones. The same goes for graduate schools. More and more schools are expanding their capacity to offer graduate degrees, more and more are pushing the limits of online degrees, and more and more organizations are offering certifications that may substitute for much of the traditional academic learning. Of course, the knee-jerk response for schools is to give you, the consumer, new offerings. You are the beneficiary of such academic in-fighting.

One of these options that now pervade graduate schools, especially with professional schools, is the “joint” or “dual” degree to get two separate degrees. They come in all shapes and sizes: M.D./Ph.d, J.D/M.A, J.D/Ph.d, M.D./M.A., etc – all at a significant discount for you. The schools will typically have either an intertwined program linking the programs or concurrent pursuits of both degrees to be accomplished in less time than if you were to get them separately. For example, a J.D./M.A. which would typically take three years for the law degree and two years for the master’s would take only four years rather than the prescribed five years.

These joint programs benefit you in a multitude of ways. Here are only a few for you to consider: 

  • Time savings. If you ever see yourself going back to school in your life, you can save time by doing it now.
  • Cost savings. Pursuing a joint or dual degree usually has an extra financial cost, but in the long run, you will save on spending money on extra years of schooling.
  • Discipline diversity. Getting two degrees makes you marketable in three areas: two in the fields you are getting your degrees and the third in the bridged field between the two fields. If you only get one degree, you are marketable in only one area.
  • Networks. The adage of “its not what you know but whom” is appropriate for pursuing a joint degree. In a second degree, it is likely that you will meet more people: students, professors, administrators, authors, etc. than if you just went straight to work. If you are capable of getting a job with one graduate degree, you are even more qualified to get it with two. The work networks will exist no matter when you go.
  • Intellectual Pursuit. If you love learning, the joint degree is for you because you get to expand your mental horizons even further.



It would be unfair of me not to mention the costs of a joint degree. For some people, the opportunity really would be a strain based on some financial or personal constraints – severe debt, serious family considerations, or housing payments. However, just be honest with yourself, and you will figure if it is feasible or not. For those who figure that it is, do not succumb to the “standardized test trap” – where people justify not pursuing a degree because they do not want to study for another test, but really what are the costs? TIME: In the long run, consider planning out study, test-taking, and application time. If you are reasonable in time allocation, you may find it is not as difficult as you think. CO$T$: If the costs of books, test sessions, or application fees are prohibitive, I recommend many saving measures. First, be vigilant about checking out books from a public library or try to borrow them from friends. Second, if the costs of the test or application are too expensive, create a savings plan or look into fee waivers (they actually exist). Overall, do not let these short-term time and financial costs stand in your way from enjoying the benefits of a joint-degree.

The balancing of the benefits and costs is a tough one, not just for the thought of a joint degree, but just for going to graduate school in the first place. However, when it is likely that you will be working for another 45 years, and a joint degree might only take an extra year, it may not be such a hard decision.

For your information, here is just a smattering of great joint degrees:

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