Joined programmes, killing two birds with one stone

Joined programmes, killing two birds with one stone


In his classic, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Steven R. Covey mentions exploiting synergy as a key strategy to achieving high efficaciousness. It is this virtue, which motivates people to undertake joint degree programmes. Joint degree programmes involve a student working for two different university degrees in parallel, either at the same institution or at different institutions, possibly in different countries.

By exploiting synergies, candidates are allowed to complete two degrees in less time than it would be required to earn the two degrees separately. Joint degree programmes exploit synergy by allowing common foundation courses to be shared by two programmes, counting for two degrees simultaneously and allowing a candidate to “kill two birds with one stone”.

The completion of a joint degree programme allows a candidate not only to save time, but also to make a strong statement about his or her flexibility, ambition, and work habits. Typically, in a double degree programme both participating institutions reduce the amount of time required to spend at each. Not least among the reasons why the institutions involved allow this is because they mutually acknowledge the high standard, compatibility and quality of the courses offered at the partner institution.

Some Examples of Joint Degree Programmes

In North America, Australia, and increasingly, Hong Kong, it is common for teachers to obtain both a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree together with a B.A. or B.Sc. in the disciplines they are planning to teach. Thus one diploma is issued by the Faculty of Arts and Science, and a second by the Faculty of Education. Programmes are typically completed in four years rather than the staggering seven to eight years it would have taken to complete them separately.

The synergy resides the inter-faculty recognition of common courses by both degree programmes. B.A/B.Ed. programmes like this constitute typical examples of an intra-University dual degree programme, i.e. one that is administered by one university but different faculties within that university.

Another example of an intra-university joint-degree programme is provided by the University of Pennsylvania. There, students may elect to complete the requirements of a degree at the Faculty of Arts and Science and simultaneously enrol at the Nursing School, the School of Engineering, or the celebrated Wharton School of Business.

Many universities in North America have joint B.A./M.A. programmes which allow a candidate through intensified work, and careful planning, to obtain both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at the time of graduating, in less time than it would have taken to obtain both degrees separately.

Joint Degree Programmes and Multiple Institutions

As we mentioned in the introduction, Universities which recognise the quality of teaching and research at other institutions may choose to enter academic cooperation agreements that result in the delivering of inter-institutional joint degree programmes.

Dartmouth University, for example, offers a dual-degree program for students at other liberal arts colleges who want to study engineering at Dartmouth. They will spend their junior or senior year at Dartmouth and receive a bachelor’s degree from their home institution, and then return to Dartmouth to complete a fifth year of engineering studies in the Thayer School’s Bachelor of Engineering programme. The candidates graduate with a B.A/B.Eng or B.S./B.Eng joint degree, which looks quite compelling on a graduate school or job application. Similar possibilities are offered by other schools, for example Washington University in St. Louis, which is famous, among other things, or it’s biomedical research.

By combining institutions, candidates can get the best of several worlds, receive an education that differenciate them from their peers holding a single national degree and attain a diploma that speaks volumes about the rigour and prestige of the studies they have undertaken.

Interdisciplinarity, International Exposure

Prospective employers have a high opinion of graduates who demonstrate the suppleness of mind to work across different disciplines or cultures although they generally still unaware of the real value of a dual degree. Accordingly many universities offer the possibility to earn degrees that combine two different disciplines or that prescribe the completion of courses in more than one country and language.

Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design provide students with a range of opportunities to develop and integrate academic and artistic work completing programmes in fine arts together with sciences or humanities. In a similar vein, Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music have a joint programme in Physics and Music. What an amazing, consciousness-expanding experience, to thus pursue rigorous scientific and artistic work simultaneously!

The University of British Columbia and the famous French elite school Sciences Po, offer joint degrees which allow a candidate to thus experience both English and French intellectual traditions and culture.

Dual and Joint degrees at the post-graduate level

Until now, we have spoken only of undergraduate degrees, but the logic of exploiting synergy applies equally to post-graduate studies, for example in professional school (Journalism, Engineering, Law, Medicine).

It is frequent to find joint M.D./Ph.D, so called scientist/clinician programmes. These programmes allow a candidate to graduate both as a clinically competent medical doctor, but also to have research exposure in various related or less apparently related fields. The field of the Ph.D can be in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry or another natural science or engineering, but occasionally this option is used to explore the humanities, for example philosophy, sociology, history, or anthropology.

When I was a doctoral student in Anatomy and Neuroscience, the director of my institute in Switzerland was an M.D./Ph.D. graduate who had completed his doctorate in Philosophy specialising in Indian philosophy of mind! A few universities, such as Yale, have joint M.D./J.D. programmes, which allow a candidate to graduate in both Medicine and Law – a synergy in obvious high demand in our societies which are wrestling with evolving ethical standards and legal-medical problems.

The intersection between law and business or law and economics is also increasing of interest and joint J.D./ M.B.A. programmes exist. Similarly, the intersection between journalism and digital media, has produced programmes such as Columbia universities’ joint-degree in Journalism and Computer Science.


Joint degree programmes are ambitious and fascinating undertakings requiring commitment and discipline from candidates. The pay off can be substantial in terms of time-savings, prestige, and sheer interest of the educational experience not to mention the possibility of rubbing shoulders with like minded ambitious classmates. It is worthwhile to promote such programmes and to create new ones that will reflect the increasingly tightly knit web of relations in our contemporary, complex, globalised societies.

About the author: Dr. Luis Murillo is a former medical researcher in neurobiology and an international college adviser, who has worked for many years with IB schools in Europe and Asia. His experience of Hungarian medical schools is based on his experience as a guest lecturer at the Medical Faculty of Debrecen University and as a counsellor who has sent some his own students to pursue medical studies in Hungary.

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