Got a passion for more than one field of study? Then you might be interested in studying two fields simultaneously with either a double major or dual degree. What is the main difference between a double major and a dual degree? And how can you figure out which option will be a better fit for you?
In this dual degree vs double major guide, we go over the fundamental difference between the two academic paths, define each option in detail, and take a look at the most important similarities and differences between the two. We also offer you some tips to help you determine whether a double major or dual degree will work better for you based on your preferences and goals.
The Basic Difference Between Double Major and Dual Degree
The key difference between a double major and a dual degree lies in what you receive when you graduate from college. With a double major, you're earning just one bachelor’s degree (i.e., one diploma) with specializations in two fields.
However, with a dual degree, you’re earning two separate degrees/diplomas (which could be two bachelor’s degrees, a bachelor’s and a master’s, etc.) in two distinct fields.
Typically, a double major means you’ll be studying two fields that are based in the same school and that’ll earn you the same type of degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Science (BS), or a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).
By contrast, a dual degree usually means you’ll be studying two unique fields that are based in two different schools and that’ll earn you two different types of degrees (e.g., a BS and a BFA).
In my case, I double majored in English and East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC) at USC. This means I earned just one college degree: a Bachelor of Arts with concentrations in English and EALC. Because classes for the English and EALC majors were both housed in the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences (and both majors led to a BA), I was able to study the two fields under the same degree.
That said, if I’d wanted to study a much more different combination of fields, such as English and architecture (which are housed in two different schools at USC), I'd needed to have studied the fields as two separate degrees, which would have earned me a BA in English and a Bachelor of Architecture.
Now that you understand this basic difference, let’s take a look at the main qualities that define a dual degree and a double major.
With a dual degree, you'll get two diplomas when you graduate from college.
What Is a Dual Degree?
A dual degree (also called a double degree) is when a student studies two different fields at the same time in order to earn two separate degrees. Depending on the university, this could be a wide combination of degrees, such as two types of bachelor’s degrees, a bachelor’s and a master's, or two master’s/professional degrees. Each degree corresponds to one of the fields in which you’re specializing.
For instance, at the University of Michigan, undergraduate students can pursue a dual degree by earning a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at the Ross School of Business and a BA, BS, BFA, etc., at another school within UM.
Universities that offer dual degree programs often require students to apply and get accepted to the two schools at which the fields are housed. Because a dual degree requires students to simultaneously complete the requirements for two different degrees, it typically takes more time (more than four years or four years plus summer classes) than a regular undergraduate program does.
As with any degree, you must complete all basic requirements (including general education courses and major courses) for both degrees in order to earn them. Columbia’s BA/MPA dual degree program, for example, takes a total of five years to complete—but by the end of this, you’ll be rewarded with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
This extra time required for a dual degree naturally means that students who are pursuing one will likely have to pay more in tuition, housing, etc. Nevertheless, you’ll save money (and time!) doing a dual degree than if you had pursued the two degrees separately or at different times.
A double major allows you to study two fields and get just one degree.
What Is a Double Major?
You’ve probably met or heard of college students doing a double major. With a double major, you earn a single degree with concentrations in two fields. These fields are typically housed in the same school or college within a university and earn you the same type of degree (e.g., a BA, a BFA, a BS, etc.).
If you want to pursue two majors in two highly different fields or at two different schools in your university, you’ll likely have to instead apply for a dual degree program.
At some universities, you can apply the same courses to both of your majors, which can save you time and money. But this policy varies. At Stanford, you can't have any overlapping classes for your two majors. Meanwhile, at UC Berkeley, you may have up to two upper-division credits count toward both of your majors.
Many students do not declare a double major until at least halfway through their college career. (I myself didn’t declare my second major until the end of my sophomore year.) However, you can declare a double major earlier if you know what you want to study, or possibly later, so long as you’ll have enough time to get all the credits you need by the time you intend to graduate.
Furthermore, double majors can typically be completed within the regular four-year span (as most undergraduate degrees are). This means that double majors won’t usually have to spend any more money or time on their degree than a single major would.
Finally, it’s worth noting that some students are able to triple major—meaning they get to study three fields at the same time and still earn just one degree!
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Dual Degree vs Double Major: 3 Key Similarities
So far, we’ve given you the basic difference between a dual degree and a double major as well as in-depth definitions of both academic paths. Now, we'll take a look at some of the key similarities between the two.
#1: You Get to Study Two Fields at Once
Both a dual degree and a double major allow students to study more than one academic field at the same time. As a result, you’ll get the advantage of being able to broaden your horizons and expand your knowledge in different subject areas. This can lead to more effective analytical skills, too, which can be applied to careers and other professional endeavors.
According to one study, double majors tend to be more dynamic, creative thinkers than single majors, indicating that there are many intellectual advantages to studying two fields at once.
Getting a double major or dual degree can also prevent you from feeling limited or constricted to a single academic discipline. For example, if you love learning Spanish but aren’t sure whether a language major alone will help you get a job after college, you could combine it—via either a dual degree or double major—with another field that’s more job-oriented and that offers you the opportunity to learn a different skill set.
More fields of study = more career options!
#2: Studying Two Fields Can Diversify Your Career Prospects
Perhaps the biggest benefit of studying two fields, either as a double major or dual degree, is that you’re acquiring two individual sets of skills and knowledge. This intellectual diversity can have a positive effect on your future career prospects. Basically, your experience with studying two academic disciplines will allow you to explore a bigger array of possible careers.
For example, say you did a dual degree program in which you earned a BFA in Piano Performance and a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA). With these two fields under your belt, you could enter a career related to music or business (or a career combining both!). Since you have many of the fundamental skills required (or preferred) for a job in either of these two fields, we could say your dual degree has, in fact, diversified your career possibilities.
The same can be said for a double major. Say you double majored in chemistry and English. With these majors, you’ll learn plenty of useful skills, from critical thinking to observation and analysis, that you can apply to several occupations. For example, you could be a professional writer or work with a company that sells scientific equipment. You could even combine your majors in a more specialized career; for instance, you could become an editor of a science journal.
Overall, both a dual degree and double major allow you to not just learn about two fields but also gain a set of broader skills that can be applied to far more careers than had you simply studied one field.
#3: You Might Be Able to Apply a Class Toward Both Majors/Degrees
Though this varies a lot depending on the university, with some double majors and dual degree programs, you can apply some of the classes you take for one major/degree to your other major/degree.
However, note that most universities that allow this overlap between credits have a limit on how many credits/classes you can apply to both majors/degrees.
For example, dual degree students in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan may request to have a class for one degree "double-count" toward their other degree by submitting a Dual Degree Course Election Form.
At Northwestern, double majors can double-count a limited number of courses toward both their majors if they’re majoring in an interdisciplinary field, such as Asian Studies or Neuroscience.
Double Major vs Dual Degree: 2 Major Differences
We know that a dual degree gets you two separate degrees, whereas a double major gets you just one degree with two concentrations. But what are some other major differences between the two?
Unfortunately, knowledge isn't the only thing to rise when you opt for a dual degree.
#1: Dual Degrees Take Longer and Cost More Money
Since you’re earning two degrees, each with its own unique academic requirements, a dual degree program requires more coursework than a double major does. This means you’ll generally be in school longer—often five or more years depending on the program and types of degrees you’re getting.
By contrast, with a double major, you can usually finish college within the regular four-year time frame (though some people might take longer, especially if they didn’t declare their second major until very late into their college career).
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, for example, you must earn 120 credits for a double major and 150 credits for a dual degree. Due to this extra time spent in school, a dual degree typically costs more money overall than a double major does You’ll need to pay more for tuition since you're taking more credits in total; you’ll also need to pay more for things like housing, textbooks, and meals since you’ll be staying in school longer.
#2: Dual Degrees Usually Require Admission to Two Schools
Because a dual degree means you’ll be pursuing two degrees from two different schools, you’ll usually need to apply to (and get accepted to) both schools.
By when you must apply to each school depends on the university. At Boston University, you must complete one full semester before you can apply to the dual degree program, and you can’t apply any later than the first semester of your junior year.
At Columbia, applicants to the Law School may apply for a dual degree either when they initially apply for admission to the Law School (in other words, before they start college) or when they’re already enrolled at the Law School.
Double majors are different, though. Since most students who double major study fields housed in the same school, they won’t need to apply for admission to a separate school.
In general, the process for declaring a double major is a lot simpler than that for entering a dual degree program. For a double major, all you typically need to do is consult your advisor to figure out how many credits you need, which classes you’ll take, and whether you’ll have enough time in your schedule to pursue both majors without issue.
Double Major vs Double Degree: Which One Should You Do?
If you’re reading this article, you’re likely considering studying more than one field in college. But which is better for you: a double major or a dual degree?
Below is a quiz you can use to help you figure out which plan might be a better fit for you. For each statement, put a check for either "Agree" or "Disagree." At the end, tally up your number of agrees and disagrees to find out whether a double major or dual degree is better suited for you.
I hope to graduate within four years.
The two fields I’m interested in studying are (at least somewhat) related to each other.
Money is or might be a major concern for me.
I dislike long, complicated application processes.
I get easily stressed with having to balance lots of schoolwork.
I’m unsure what I want to study in college.
Mostly Agrees — A Double Major Should Work Well for You!
If you got more agrees than disagrees, then a double major will likely work better for you than a dual degree will. You’d prefer to avoid spending any more money or time than you need to in order to get your college degree.
You also want to study two fields that are at least slightly relevant to each other and whose majors don’t require a long application process or a lot more credits.
Mostly Disagrees — A Dual Degree Is the Challenge You’re Seeking!
If you got more disagrees than agrees, a dual degree sounds like the perfect intellectual challenge for you. You have a clear idea of the two (likely very different) fields you want to study and don’t mind spending more time and money getting your degrees. You’re also OK with having to balance a heavier-than-normal workload.
Equal Number of Agrees and Disagrees — You Could Do Either!
If you got an equal number of agrees and disagrees, either a double major or a dual degree could work well for you. You’re probably not a huge fan of spending a lot more time and money than you need to, but you’re also very interested in studying the two fields you really want to learn about, regardless of the challenges they might pose.
Dual Degree vs Double Major: Key Takeaways
Both a double major and a dual degree involve the study of two academic fields. However, there's a big difference between the two academic paths: a double major means you’ll get one degree with two concentrations, whereas a dual degree means you’ll get two separate degrees (i.e., two diplomas), one for each area of specialization.
Typically, double majors involve the study of two related fields of study whose majors are housed in the same school or college at a university. This means you’ll graduate with one type of degree, such as a BA or BS, with two concentrations.
Students usually have until at least the beginning of their junior year to declare a double major. Most double majors are able to graduate within the typical four-year time frame and therefore won’t need to spend more money on credits/tuition than a single major would.
By contrast, a dual degree generally means you’ll be studying two highly different fields whose majors belong to two different schools. As a result, you’ll usually have to apply to both schools separately (and of course get accepted to both!).
Dual degrees also require more credit hours than single degrees and double majors, since you need to complete the requirements for two separate degrees.
The best way to figure out whether a double major or a dual degree is right for you is to take our quiz above. To reiterate, here are the main questions to ask yourself before you make your choice:
- What academic fields do you want to study in college (and how sure are you of your choices)?
- How much coursework are you willing to handle at one time?
- Are you OK with having to spend more time and money on your degree(s)?
Being able to answer these questions should give you a clear idea as to which academic path—a double major or a dual degree—is ultimately the best one for you to take!
What about if you want to become a teacher—do you need a dual degree, an education major, or just certification? Learn more about whether or not you need a teaching degree here. We also have complete guides for how to become a teacher and whether or not you should get an early childhood education degree.
Still got questions about dual degrees or double majors? Then feel free to take a look at our in-depth guides to what a dual degree is and what a double major is to learn more about what to expect if you're pursuing one.
What's the process for double majoring? Get the rundown in our guide on how to double major in college! If you're thinking about adding a second major but aren't sure if you can handle the workload, you should also check out our guide to low-key college majors.
Struggling to figure out what you want to study in college? Have no fear—our guide will help you choose the best major for you, one step at a time.
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.