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Double Major Vs. Dual Degree: The Differences, Plus Pros & Cons Of Each

Figuring out what to study in college can be difficult for lots of students, especially when there are so many different fields to choose from and you may have many different interests. One way indecisive students can combat this confusion is to explore an avenue like a double major or a dual degree rather than selecting a single major. While the two paths sound similar, there are some key differences that separate them. And if you’re interested in a potential double major or dual degree, it’s important to be aware of their distinctions.

If you just can’t decide on a major and want to combine as many different options as possible, then consider enrolling in a dual-degree program or becoming a double major yourself.

What is a double major vs. dual-degree program?

The key difference between a double major and a dual-degree program is that a double major is when you study two different fields or concentrations and graduate with one diploma. A lot of times, a double major is two different majors within the same school, or two majors that are at least the same type of degree (so two Bachelors of Arts (BA), two Bachelors of Science (BS), two Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA), etc.). 

Sometimes for double majors, because you only graduate with one diploma, you’ll need to select a primary and secondary major. Your diploma will reflect the degree type of your primary major, but the secondary major will still be noted on your transcript and/or diploma. 

A dual degree is when you study two different subjects that are typically not in the same school or degree type and you graduate with two separate diplomas. This can mean two separate undergraduate diplomas, a bachelor’s and master’s diploma, or two separate graduate diplomas (i.e. two masters or a masters and a doctorate). 

Keep in mind that this is based on your specific school — some universities will allow you to double major between, for example, a BS and BA degree from different colleges in the event dual degrees aren’t an option. However, generally speaking, receiving one or two diplomas is the main difference between the double major and dual degree. 

Each path has its own pros and cons. 

One pro for double majors and con for dual degrees is that credits are often more easily transferable between two majors. According to Indeed, because the curriculum and credit requirements for both departments need to be met, you often need to complete more credits for an undergraduate dual degree program, which could result in you being in school for a longer period of time past the standard four years. 

According to PrepScholar, the double major is good for someone who is undecided about what they want to study or do but still hopes to graduate in four years and wants to avoid application processes needed to enroll in official dual degree programs. 

A pro for dual degrees and con for double majors, on the other hand, is that you can broaden your knowledge as an undergraduate by getting two degrees from two separate fields entirely and will have a diploma that reflects that. However, it’s important to reiterate that dual degrees aren’t just for two undergraduate subjects (which is an ultimate pro for dual degrees).

If you choose to enroll in a dual-degree program that is commonly referred to as a 4+1 or a bachelor’s and master’s degree program, you can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in either the same or two different fields within five years instead of separate bachelor’s and master’s degrees, which typically take six or more years to complete. This condensed time period is typically achieved by students enrolled in the program ahead of time that start to take graduate level classes in their junior or senior year of undergrad. So while you may need to take more credits per semester, you’re ultimately saving time (and money) in the long run. This is especially great for aspiring teachers who may need a master’s degree to obtain a professional teaching certification, as this type of program leads into what you already need for your profession anyway. 

Some examples of these different types of dual-degree programs involving graduate degrees include: 

So in the end… which is the better option: Double Major or Dual Degree? 

At the end of the day, the option that’s better for you depends on what is available at your school and the conditions of each program. As mentioned earlier, certain components of the dual-degree program may apply to being a double major at a certain school and vice versa. 

For undergraduates who are questioning their trajectory going into college, a double major might be the way to go if you’re just looking for undergrad options. That way, you can diversify your knowledge and skill set when it comes to seeking jobs in the workforce, but you won’t be wasting money or time on additional credits that may delay your graduation. 

The dual-degree option could be perfect for someone who is more sure about what they want to study and that knows they want a master’s degree, whether it’s in the same field as their bachelors or a different field. If you know what you want after college, the dual-degree program can actually save you time and money. 

Courtney Lemkin is a National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. She writes life and career content on the site including advice on academics and more. She is a recent graduate of St. John's University where she majored in communication arts and minored in English. During her time at St. John's, she was the vice president of the campus' multimedia organization and also has previous experience writing for College Magazine. She later became an editor, social media coordinator / newsletter editor, and eventually worked her way up to holding the position of editor in chief. In her free time, Courtney enjoys anything related to the arts and loves going to see Broadway plays.