If you are interested in working in a particular area of law, earning another degree along with your JD might help support your career goals. For example, if you want to get a job in corporate law, you might be inclined to also pursue an MBA. If you want to work in health law, you might want to earn a master’s in public health. If you hope to practice patent law, a master’s or PhD in engineering could help.
Most universities with law schools also have other solid graduate programs. The fact that many law schools now accept the GRE likely makes joint-degree programs more alluring to some applicants. Of course, many people succeed in varied legal fields without a joint degree, so is it worth pursuing one?
In this blog post, we at Stratus share the factors to consider when deciding whether to enroll in a joint-degree program.
Does the law school offer a specific joint-degree program?
Some schools that have robust graduate programs across the board will offer a program that helps simplify the process of earning two degrees. These programs typically reduce the amount of time it would take to earn two degrees by a year or two. So, earning a JD and an MBA separately would take five years, but a joint JD/MBA program typically will take four years. Also, sometimes law schools partner with universities that do not offer JD programs. For example, Princeton University partners with several law schools, so you could earn a master’s at Princeton and a JD at one of its partner schools and still save a year in school.
If the law school you are interested in does not offer a joint-degree program, it is still worth inquiring with the Admissions Office, as sometimes schools will still allow certain flexibility to make your own joint-degree aspirations work. A big question in this situation is whether the school is flexible on leave policies, such as if you could defer a year to begin your other graduate program or take a year’s leave in the middle of your JD to begin another program.
It is important to note that most joint-degree programs require you to gain admission to each program separately. Therefore, you cannot use a JD admittance as a backdoor way to get into another graduate program. There is also a good chance that a joint-degree program will require you to take the LSAT as well as the GRE or GMAT.
How does a joint-degree program tie into your career goals?
Although it may seem appealing to have both a JD and a master’s degree, there is a good chance that this will not actually help you get a job. In fact, there is a good chance that the majority of the leaders in your industry of interest do not have joint degrees—but that does not make a joint degree worthless.
These days, many law professors have a PhD and a JD because a PhD makes them better writers, gives them more credibility in academia, provides them more connections and guidance, and widens their employment opportunities. Some people who are looking to start their own companies get a JD and an MBA to help them be better versed in essential aspects to running a business. People who want to focus their careers on looking at law and policy, such as in public health law or international law, will earn a JD and a master’s in one of these fields.
Those are all valid reasons for entering a joint-degree program, but earning a dual degree is not the only path to success. For example, if you are interested in international law, you might be able to gain international policy experience through writing, law classes, internships, and clinics. Moreover, spending a year working as an attorney could provide more tangible benefits to help you achieve your desired career goal. If you want to enter a competitive government program, often working for a year or two in the private sector will make you more marketable than an extra year in a graduate program.
You should investigate whether your target joint-degree program offers career opportunities such as career advising, specific summer internships, and on-campus recruiting. Conversely, the joint-degree program could potentially interrupt your post-graduation employment plans. In both JD and MBA programs, many students complete an internship the summer before they graduate, and the expectation is that they will start working in a year. But in a joint-degree program, you will be putting off at least one of the internship programs by a year.
Additionally, if you decide to go the “traditional path” of working in a particular degree’s field, you might face some skepticism. For example, a law firm might question your commitment to the private sector if you have a PhD in history. In cases like these, you just need a good explanation of how the two programs fit into your career path.
As with JD programs in general, you should look into the employment statistics of the individual programs, such as their employment ranks, average salary, and the average amount of debt carried by graduates.
Can you afford a joint-degree program?
Higher education is getting more expensive every year. Any joint-degree program will cost you more than a JD alone would cost. In addition to adding an extra year of tuition, the tuition itself might cost more per semester compared to JD tuition. Still, a joint-degree program will cost less than completing the two degrees separately.
However, spending an extra year in school has hidden costs. You will miss another year of income from not working. You will also have added interest on your loans from waiting another year to start repaying them. If your plan is to work in the private sector for a few years and then move to the public sector, the added costs could extend that time.
All of this ties into considering how earning a joint degree impacts your career goals. If you take on all of this added cost and it does nothing—or even hurts your career goals—then it is not worth it. Additionally, if your career goals and/or prospects will make paying off loans difficult, then you really have to consider whether a joint degree is worth the impact this debt could have on your quality of life. If a joint-degree program can make a difference in your career goals from a financial or fulfillment perspective, then taking on some more debt might ultimately be worth it.
What are you giving up to earn a joint degree?
Typically, graduate programs are smaller than undergraduate programs, and consequently, grad students build a lot of camaraderie. However, simultaneously completing two graduate programs can disrupt some of that. Often with joint-degree programs, you will spend one year in one program, then a year in the other program, and then the remaining two years in both programs. So, if you start your JD first, you might bond with people in the first year, and then essentially disappear for a year, and then come back. That could change the social dynamic—especially because your law school friends will be in a different place when you rejoin the program. Moreover, for the final two years, it could be difficult to have much of a presence on each campus if you must toggle between the two schools constantly.
Additionally, given that you are saving a year of time, you are also missing out on a year of instruction. Therefore, you might be unable to take all of the courses you would have wanted had you been in a JD program for the full three years or in an MBA program for two years. Also, for the years you are taking both JD classes and another grad program’s classes, you might find it difficult to constantly have to switch gears intellectually.
However, it is possible to overcome all of these issues. If you are an extrovert, you might enjoy getting to constantly meet new people through the two programs. Moreover, if your two programs are at the same school, you should be able to keep in touch with people pretty easily. Many students take law classes on vastly different subjects in law school and do just fine, so it should not be too hard for some people to switch gears. Some students even cross-register. Ultimately, a proper introspection will help you decide how these factors impact you.
If you would like to speak with a Stratus expert about pursuing a joint degree, sign up for a free consultation.