Double Major vs. Dual Degree: What's the Difference?

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You have options when earning your degree. Learn more about each track and which one is best suited for your career goals.

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Enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program means declaring a major in order to graduate. However, some undergraduates opt to double major or earn dual degrees, deepening their knowledge in two areas and potentially broadening their employment options after graduation. In 2015, 12.5 percent of students between the ages of 20 and 29 declared a double major [1]. 

But there are important differences between the two options. Double majors fulfill the coursework and requirements for two separate majors, such as communications and economics or business and psychology, but only earn one degree. Dual degree enrollees, on the other hand, fulfill the requirements necessary to earn two separate degrees, which tends to take longer to finish than a traditional four-year bachelor’s program. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the different requirements for each choice—double major versus dual degree—as well as the potential benefits of graduating with each of these distinctive options.  

Double majors vs. dual degrees

It typically takes a minimum of 120 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, with anywhere from one-third to one-half of those credits going toward a major. Let’s review the major requirements for double majoring and enrolling in a dual degree program. 

Double major

When you graduate with a double major, you graduate with a single bachelor’s degree in two subjects or areas. You will need to complete all required coursework for each of your majors. Those majors can either be related or entirely distinct, though it can be beneficial to choose complementary majors.  

Examples of double majors: 

  • Communications and business

  • Economics and mathematics

  • Criminal justice and psychology

  • Foreign language and political science

  • Public health and statistics

Depending on what you study, earning a double major should take the same amount of time as earning a single major. But some majors require more credits in order to finish, which can add time to your degree—even if you attend full-time. If you’re interested in double majoring, it’s a good idea to speak with your college advisor and determine each major’s requirements as well as how much time it will take to complete them.

Dual degree

Earning a dual degree does not mean fulfilling the entirety of a new bachelor’s degree program, such as taking your general education requirements twice. Instead, for colleges and universities that offer such programs, earning a dual bachelor’s degree generally means at least one extra year of study in order to fulfill the often-overlapping requirements for two related degrees. 

There are dual degree programs available at each educational level: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and professional, but not every college or university offers dual degrees, and even when they do, the types of degrees or majors may be limited. There are also a number of undergraduate-to-graduate dual degrees programs that decrease the amount of time it takes to earn each type of degree individually. Let’s take a look at dual bachelor’s degree options: 

Examples of bachelor’s dual degree programs:

  • Chemistry and biology 

  • Business administration and marketing

  • International relations and a foreign language

  • Engineering and music

If you’re interested in earning two bachelor’s degrees, research whether your college or university has such a program available in the areas you’d like to study. 

Bachelor’s and master’s dual degree programs

If you know you’d like to attend graduate school after completing your bachelor’s, you may want to consider dual degree programs designed to reduce the amount of time you spend earning both. On average, you can expect to spend five years rather than six earning your undergraduate and graduate degrees, though it depends on your ability to attend full-time and your program’s specifications. 

Examples of bachelor’s/master’s dual degrees: 

  • Business: BA/MBA

  • Computer science: BS/MS

  • Public health: BPH/MPH

  • Social work: BSW/MSW 

  • Nursing: BSN/MSN

If you’re interested in earning a dual bachelor’s degree, or combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees, search for colleges and universities that offer such programs in your area of choice so you can reflect on whether it aligns with your larger goals. 

Benefits of pursuing a double major 

A double major ideally helps you achieve a more extensive education by deepening your knowledge of two subjects without adding significantly to the time it takes to earn your bachelor’s degree. With a double major, you may have broader career options when you graduate, as well as a higher earning potential over time. 

A 2003 study using data from the National Survey of College Graduates found that double majors made 2.3 percent more than those who chose a single major. That number grew to between 7 and 50 percent when the graduate paired a major in the arts and humanities with a major in STEM or business [2]. If you’re torn between two subjects, earning a double major can be an opportunity to choose contrasting areas, each of which may help you develop or strengthen different skills.   

Remember that you can also opt to minor in a subject or area rather than complete a second major. It’s a good idea to think about your timeline, resources, and goals before deciding whether a double major is the best option for you. 

Benefits of pursuing a dual degree

A dual degree program, whether at the bachelor’s level or bachelor’s-to-master’s level, gives you the distinction of graduating with two degrees—usually in less time than it would take to earn each one individually. Moreover, because many dual degree programs are built on related subject matter, you can deepen your knowledge and potentially develop new skills.

Which is better: Double major or dual degree?  

One option is not better than the other. The best option is the one that makes the most sense for your personal and professional goals. 

If you do not plan on pursuing graduate school after earning your bachelor’s but still want the benefit of broader subject knowledge, then a double major may be the best choice for you. However, if you’re interested in two areas but want the distinction of two degrees rather than one, then dual degrees may be the best choice for you.

Ultimately, you should take time to think about your resources, your goals, and which path makes the most sense given those factors. If you’re still not sure, speak to your academic counselor or college advisor for help determining the best path for you. 

Explore further 

On Coursera, you can earn your bachelor’s degree online in high-demand fields like marketing, computer science, and business administration from top universities. Complete your coursework at your own pace and schedule, and learn from anywhere with internet access. If you’ve earned college credit previously, you may be able to transfer up to 45 hours to the University of North Texas Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences.  

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Article sources

1. PBS. “Does It Pay to Get a Double Major in College?, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/pay-get-double-major-college." Accessed February 2, 2022

2. Economics of Education Review. “Double Your Major, Double Your Return?, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272775707000659?via%3Dihub" Accessed February 2, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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