Dual Degree Programs vs Double Majors—How to Choose

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By Dianna Sawyer
Last updated on August 3, 2023

International students at US colleges may want to consider a dual degree program, where you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same time. See how dual degrees can save time and money — and whether they make sense for your educational and professional goals.

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For some students, college is the time to figure out what career they would like to pursue or what field they might prefer to specialize in. However, many students already know what they want to do — for these students, a dual degree may be a helpful option to save time and money on their way to a great career. 

A dual degree means you study for an undergraduate and graduate degree at the same time, like with a 4+1 program in engineering, for example. (A 4+1 program may also be called a five-year master’s program, depending on the university or college.)

There are many different types of dual degree and accelerated programs, but they all share a few benefits. With this type of degree program, you can:

  • Complete undergraduate and graduate coursework in less time

  • Save money on tuition, housing, and books by finishing school faster

  • Specialize in one or more areas of study so you can apply to jobs sooner

A dual degree is different from a double major, which is the ability to specialize in two areas of study within your undergraduate degree. With a double major, you study two subjects, but graduate with just one degree — for example, a double major means a student studies for a bachelor’s degree in both computer science and mathematics.

While a dual degree or accelerated degree may be a great fit for some students, other students may feel that a double major is a better option. Let us take a look at what a dual degree really entails, and how to decide if this type of accelerated degree program is right for you.

What Is a Dual Degree?

As we mentioned, a dual degree or accelerated degree is a program that allows you to complete both the undergraduate and master’s level degrees in less time than the traditional path — usually five years, instead of six or seven. 

For example, the University of Kansas offers an accelerated law degree program that allows students to earn their undergraduate and graduate law degrees in just six years, saving a whole year of tuition and other costs.

Dual degrees also give students the chance to complete multiple advanced degrees in their area of study through intensive coursework. 

Let’s say you are a student interested in pharmacology. You can earn a dual doctor of pharmacy and doctor of philosophy degree, or a dual doctor of pharmacy and master of science at the University of the Pacific. These dual degree programs save time and money for students who want to have opportunities in research, academia, and clinical practice.

Many schools now offer dual degree and accelerated degrees in a variety of subjects, like English, nursing, business, and medicine. If you already know you want an advanced degree in a particular subject, be sure to find out what your school offers.

How Does a Dual Degree Save Money?

We all know college is expensive — there is tuition, housing, food, books, transportation, and more added to your bill. And because many costs tend to increase over time, every year you spend in school means more costs for you and your family. Earning your degrees at once, in less time, is a great way to save money. 

Let us look at an example:

Louisiana State University offers an accelerated law degree which students complete in six years — three in undergraduate, three in law school. Here’s how it works: Junior-year students who meet LSU Law Center’s entrance requirements are able to apply for accelerated program admission. If they are accepted, students are then eligible to begin studying at the LSU Law Center during their fourth year/senior year at LSU, and completed coursework counts toward both the final undergraduate degree year and the first year of the law degree.

One undergraduate credit hour costs $1,656 for non-residents (those who do not live in Louisiana). An undergraduate degree requires a minimum 94 credits, which would cost a non-resident $155,664, followed by three years of law school. Using a ballpark 33 credits taken over this last undergraduate year that are also applied to the first year of law school, this could save the student approximately $55,000 in tuition and fees, not to mention an extra year of housing, food, transportation, and books.  

Keep in mind that pursuing a dual degree or accelerated degree saves money over time, and not necessarily up front. For instance, if a student is interested in a Masters of Computer Science at Florida International University, they can apply to the accelerated program and complete both their bachelor and master’s degrees at once. However, if they cannot make the commitment to pay for both degrees in the accelerated program, it may be more cost-effective for this student to complete the degrees more slowly, at the traditional pace. When looking at the costs of a dual-degree program, the value and affordability will depend on your particular financial circumstances. 

Is a Dual Degree Right for Me? 

For many students, a dual degree or accelerated degree offers the chance to save money and time while getting a head start on their career. But some students simply are not ready to pursue an advanced degree yet. 

If you are not sure, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I need an advanced degree to start my career?

  • Can I commit to five or six years of school right now?

  • Would I like to study several subjects in college instead of specializing right away?

  • Is it important to me to save time on earning my degrees?

The answers to these questions may help guide you as you consider a dual degree, accelerated degree, or double major. Every student is different, and the best way to determine your ideal path is to speak with an advisor. 

No matter which path you choose, college is an exciting time to learn more about yourself and begin to think about your career. There are many ways to get started, but the best way is the one that is right for you and your family.

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to start planning your next steps toward studying in the US >