When is a dual-degree MBA worth it?

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2012

(ARA) – In the last two decades, more and more business schools have started to offer a dual Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, in which a student can pair a traditional Master of Business Administration degree with another post-graduate (master’s or doctoral) degree. Pursuing two degrees at once may mean more time, money and stress initially, but it can also lead to a graduate who is proficient in business concepts as well as being a subject-matter expert. How can potential students tell if a dual degree is right for them?

Barbara Allison, director of the business program at South University‘s Montgomery campus, says that a dual degree, also called a joint degree, is best for students who have a specific goal in mind.

“Learning the business side of a technical field can be very valuable,” says Allison, who has earned both an MBA and a doctorate in business administration. “South University offers a dual Doctor of Pharmacy & Master of Business Administration (PharmD/MBA) degree at our Savannah campus. That pairing makes sense because some pharmacy students know that, for instance, they want to own or manage an independent pharmacy. Acquiring business acumen will be useful for them.”

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The same logic would apply to a medical student who knows that he or she wants to run a stand-alone clinic or pursue health care administration. But Allison cautions students against getting a dual degree just because they have an interest in both fields.

“You may be fascinated by business and law, for example, but that doesn’t automatically mean a J.D./MBA is for you,” Allison says. “The big exception is if you are already employed and are earning the degree through an arrangement with your employer. Then almost any combination would make sense, since you are reasonably certain that you’ll have a job – and more money – after graduation.”

If saving a significant amount of time or money by getting two degrees at the same time is your goal, you will need to be careful about which school you choose. Many dual-degree students may be able to save money on living expenses and school-wide fees by doubling up, but only if there is a time-saving aspect to the arrangement. At some schools, it takes just as long to get the degrees separately as it does to earn them through a joint-degree program.

Regardless of the time it takes, the largest cost of going to school is usually the tuition, fees, books and equipment for each program of study. This cost generally will not change whether you pursue the degrees separately or concurrently.

And speaking of money, Allison says not to expect to recoup the added cost of a dual degree right away.

“Again, the big exception is if a student already has a job lined up with a change in salary agreed to,” she says. “But in general, an MBA along with a subject-matter degree may lead to higher compensation over the course of a career, but not necessarily right away.”

While it is not a good choice for everyone, a dual-degree MBA can be tailor-made for the right student who has a clear goal in mind and realistic expectations.