MBA Specializations and Dual Degrees: Are They Worth It?

If you’re thinking of going to business schools, there are two questions that should be a part of your research.

First, does a traditional MBA education offer the breadth of knowledge you seek beyond the core disciplines of finance, marketing, operations, and so on? Second, does the array of elective courses that go along with that MBA program provide the depth of learning you want to accelerate progress on your chosen career path?

If your answer to both is “no,” the good news is that you have two exciting options to consider.

Dual Degrees and Specialized Programs

A dual-degree program is one in which a student pursues an MBA plus another graduate degree, usually at the same university, with some overlap in timing. The most popular degrees earned in tandem with an MBA include Law (J.D.), Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Public Administration (MPA), and Master of Education (M.Ed.). There’s also a growing list of niche combinations, such as MBA/Master of Fine Arts (MFA).

A specialized MBA program is essentially a master’s degree in business administration with a heavy concentration in a particular industry and/or role. The nearly endless list of specialties spans oil and gas management, innovation, arts administration, market research, supply chain management, security analysis, real estate, sports management, corporate social responsibility, wine management, luxury goods, biosciences, healthcare, and many more.

Weighing the Options

Having a tough time choosing between these two options? Consider the pros and cons, as well as the typical candidate profile, for each:

Dual Degree

Upside: Graduating with two full-fledged graduate degrees means that you’ll be a qualified and competitive candidate for a senior position in two arenas. You will have the knowledge, perspective, and network necessary to really make your mark in either field (or in both!). Top-tier universities offer many dual-degree programs, so you can target some of the most renowned programs in the nation during your search.

Downside: The admissions process is more demanding; you’ll be preparing two different applications and putting your fate in the hands of two different admissions committees. And in some cases, being rejected by one degree program could negatively impact your candidacy for the other. A dual-degree program also takes more time to complete than a typical MBA program, sometimes requiring students to spend up to four years at school (which means more time off the job market). Also, because students are completing the full course load for both degrees, they will usually have to pay for both. While the same financial aid that is available to those getting a single degree is available to dual-degree students, the scholarships or aid they get from their program one semester may not transfer to the other program they are working with the next semester.

Ideal Candidate: A dual-degree program may be a great fit for students who envision a career at the intersection of two disciplines (e.g., business and public policy) and who would benefit from having the same graduate degree as someone focused solely on the non-business discipline. This program is particularly helpful for students interested in becoming top-tier managers in a specific field. For instance, someone who aspires to manage a media company may benefit from a dual-degree MBA/M.S. in journalism. Candidates tend to have the same demographic profiles as their peers attending traditional MBA programs.

Specialized MBA Degree

Upside: This education is shorter in duration that the dual-degree alternative — often available as a part-time program — and thus less expensive in terms of tuition and foregone income. Furthermore, grads become true subject-matter experts, as this degree connotes serious dedication to that field, often through hands-on experience.

Downside: Grads of such programs may have less latitude in changing industries or functions later in their careers. The specialized MBA degree is not the full equivalent of a formal graduate degree in that same specialty (e.g., graduates with an MBA specializing in healthcare will have more difficulty transitioning to a role primarily focused on healthcare than a graduate with a dual MBA/Master of Public Health). Also, in pursuing this option, your classmates will not offer the diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and goals that you would find in traditional MBA programs. Finally, specialized MBAs are more often offered by second- and third-tier schools striving to differentiate themselves from more highly ranked schools with dual-degree programs.

Ideal Candidate: This may be the best option for students with professional backgrounds and/or aspirations in a very specific field who now want to gain subject-matter expertise in that area. Candidates are often well into their careers, eager to acquire practical knowledge that will help them climb higher and faster.

Final Considerations

As you research and consider which type of program — dual degree or specialized MBA — is better for you, there are some insightful resources to tap. These include the career services staff and recent students at the universities you are targeting. They can describe the kinds of jobs that graduates have pursued and how this education contributed to their success.

Of course, it’s important to determine whether your profile is competitive enough for admission to your desired program. You can get advice from professional advisors, such as those at The MBA Exchange, to understand your chances of admittance and to receive guidance throughout the application process.

Whichever option you pursue, the learning and growth you gain should prove exciting and rewarding. By investing in your personal brand, stretching your intellect, and expanding your network, you’ll emerge as a more competent and confident professional, ready to seize greater opportunities and solve bigger problems than your peers who lack this advanced education and respected credential.

Want more information about both of these options? Check out our dual degree programs and MBA specializations pages, where you can read advice from Experts and ask pressing questions.