Believe it or not, completing your undergraduate career with multiple degrees in four years or less is completely feasible. With that being said, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Before you venture off to earn two degrees (or more) you need to evaluate the reasons why you want these degrees and see if it’s worth it.
Personally, I have two degrees and yes, they are completely worth it. I have a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Marketing and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Liberal Studies. I knew long before I started at the University of Houston that I wanted a degree in Liberal Arts. I’ve always valued a liberal arts education and I believed it would round out my educational experience at U of H. (I was right).
Furthermore, I was familiar with the Liberal Studies program and knew it was completely doable with the number of credits I was bringing in from high school and my summers at a community college. (Community colleges are the BOMB.COM)
If you are going to get more than one degree, I strongly recommend making a strategic choice in which degrees you choose. Make sure the degrees you choose complement one another and you enjoy both areas of study.
For example, my Liberal Studies degree and my Marketing degree complement one another very well. Marketing is more technical in nature whereas my Liberal Studies degree adds more depth and interpersonal context. It helps me apply the skills I acquire in marketing in different disciplines and to think more broadly which is very important.
Another example of two degrees that can complement one another is Supply Chain Technology and Education. These degrees may help you break into the more technical and administrative side of higher education.
Getting a degree in Biology and Public Health could prepare you for grad school or entering the public sector with a strong emphasis on health care.
Finding a combination that can complement one another will take time and energy, but it’s worth taking the time to do it now. Make sure you think through these things early so you have an idea of the prerequisites you need to complete.
Step 1: Decide if you want a double major or a dual degree
People get this confused all the time. There’s a difference between a double major and a dual degree. In most cases, getting a double major is easier than getting a dual degree. A double major means you have two majors in the same college. For example, my BA in Liberal Studies is from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. If I majored in Liberal Studies and Anthropology then I would have a double major because those two majors are from the same college.
A dual degree means you get two degrees; one from a different college. For example, I have a degree from Bauer College of Business and a degree from College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Since they are from different colleges they have different degree requirements.
Completing a dual degree program can be more tedious than getting a double major because dual degree has different prerequisites. That’s why people either don’t finish their degrees or don’t finish on time.
Step 2: Study the degree plans
Once you have decided which degrees you would like to complete, look at the degree plans available online. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the degree plans on your own. (Right now, I’m assuming you want to complete two degrees. Completing a double major is a relatively straightforward process. I’ll cover that later.) Learn the all the prerequisites for various electives and keystones for each degree. A keystone is a course that defines the degree and cannot be substituted for anything else. Also become familiar with different substitutes you can use for prerequisites. This will help you out later.
Make it a habit to frequently review the degree requirements and keep track of changes in your degree plans. Declare your degrees as soon as possible. This way even if the program changes their requirements, the changes will not affect you.
Step 3: Map out your four-year plan
Map out your four-year plan with these two degrees in mind. Check for prerequisites that can be counted toward both degrees. This will save you time and money. Include summers and winter sessions as well. To complete your two degrees, you will probably have to take extra sessions to finish on time. Also, keep in mind that you will probably have to take at least 15 (sometimes 18) credit hours during the Fall and Spring semesters to make this work.
I’m serious about keeping it to four years or less. I would almost never recommend completing a dual degree program in lieu of finishing in four years.
The reason I am adamant about completing your degree in four years (unless you’re in a special 5 or 6-year program) is because college can get significantly more expensive after 4 years and sometimes students get stuck in a rut. Most financial aid and scholarships also stipulate that you finish in four years unless there are extraneous circumstances.
If you are considering a dual degree program, you are probably ambitious in nature. It’s better to finish in 4 years and back up your academic experience with professional exposure. Plus, you still have the academic experience from your extra degree (even if you didn’t finish it).
Since you’re the ambitious type, you probably want to go to grad school anyway and complete other amazing things in your academic and professional career. Don’t let completing a dual degree program be the thing that deters you from moving forward.
Step 4: Talk to your academic advisors
The only reason this step is not number 1 is because it takes a lot of forethought on your own to make sure that this is worth it. Your academic advisors will only be familiar with the degree from their college.
For example, when I was completing my two degrees I had to talk to an academic advisor from Bauer and CLASS regularly. I needed to be in constant communication with each one to make sure I was on track. They always saw extra classes and credits on my account they had no idea about because I was pursuing another degree.
Therefore, it is very important to talk to your academic advisors. (I wrote an article on how to do just that if you need some extra help.) Make sure to talk to your academic advisor about prerequisites. Try to find as many prerequisites as possible that can count toward both degrees. Clear it with your academic advisor as well so you know that you’re on track. You should meet with your academic advisor at least three times a semester (that means 6 different appointments if you’re getting two degrees).
I know I said this earlier but it’s worth repeating, you will most likely need to take at least 15 (sometimes 18) credit hours per semester (and 9 during the summer and winter respectively) to complete your degrees on time. That’s why it’s important to make sure your degrees are worth it and you are meticulous about your planning and time management.
Step 5: Check out community colleges
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Community colleges are the BOMB.COM. They can save you a lot of money and time completing your degrees. Check out your community college to see if you can complete some prerequisites you need for your degrees over the summer or winter.
As always, before you enroll to make sure you clear the classes with your academic advisor so you know for a fact that they will transfer to your home institution. The last thing you want is to enroll in a class that won’t be counted.
Step 6: Consider doing research, an honors thesis, independent study, study abroad or internship for credit
These alternative academic experiences can help you customize your academic career and complete your dual degree program on time. These alternatives can count toward your upper-level electives and in some cases, can count toward both of your degrees.
Think about it.
If you petition one of your internships for credit (yes, you should definitely complete an internship while you’re in college) you are that much closer to finishing your degrees!
By the time you get to your higher level courses you have a wealth of knowledge and insight that can help add more depth and a unique spin to either your area of research, an honors thesis or independent study. Make sure you clear this with your academic advisor first.
Studying abroad is a nice loophole that can allow you to complete a lot of credits at once at a lower rate. For example, most liberal arts programs have a foreign language requirement. It’s much easier (and honestly better) to complete those requirements in the country where that language is spoken.
Step 7: Do it!
I know it sounds silly for me to mention this but you’d be surprised how many people take this step for granted. Once you have created a four-year plan and talked to your academic advisors you actually have to enroll in those classes and do well in them. It’s not enough to just talk about wanting two degrees. You have to work towards it. Put your money where your mouth is and do it!
I know making a four-year plan can be intimidating. The point of a four-year plan is to give you direction. The only part that of your four-year plan you want to make sure you have nailed down is the semester you are in. The future semesters can (and should) be flexible. While you’re on your way to completing the degrees, things will change. That’s okay. Change happens.
It’s okay change your mind about getting two degrees. It’s okay to change which degrees you choose to get. If you fail or make a mistake make sure you learn quickly and get back on your feet. At the very least make sure you graduate with at least one degree! I know that sounds silly but sometimes people are so focused on getting two degrees they don’t end up finishing either.
BONUS TIP: Throughout your entire academic career, you should be networking with your peers and professors. Pursuing two degrees gives you access to more resources and areas of study that your peers will most likely never see. Take advantage of that!
Since you are pursuing two degrees you are probably the ambitious type anyway. Don’t squander this experience by keeping your head stuck in a book. You can network by joining a few organizations that a related to your field of study or the industry you want to pursue. You can also network with your professors as well. (Oddly enough I wrote another article on how to do exactly that *wink, wink*)
ANOTHER BONUS TIP: To make sure you graduate with at least one degree, start with the degree of your preference. I know I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating.
For example, I knew for a fact that no matter what I wanted to graduate with my BBA. I was okay with not completing my BA (in a worst-case scenario) so I made my schedule for the first half of college Marketing focused while interlacing Liberal Studies prerequisites during the summer.
Now keep in mind that I had a lot of credits from high school and the Liberal Studies program I chose was relatively straightforward. My situation will be different from yours. The point is to be smart about your academic career and don’t miss the forest for the trees.
Now, what if you want to double major…
So far, this article has been focused on how to graduate with two degrees in four years, but if you want to complete a double major the process is much more straightforward. Basically, complete all the same steps and you will be well on your way to completing a double major.
Chances are if you are pursuing two degrees in the same college then all the prerequisites will be the same. It’s typically much easier to add an extra major. Oftentimes it means taking more upper-level electives which are completely possible. Normally you only have one advisor as well who can help you map out what that would look like. You still need to be tenacious about your planning though to make sure that you get what you need done in four years.
Now what if you want more than two degrees….
The title of this article suggests that you can finish with 2 or more degrees in four years and I wasn’t kidding. The thing is finishing with three separate degrees oftentimes takes special permission the dean to move forward. It also takes a high level of finesse, focus, and determination.
A way around that is to get a double major in one college and a degree in another college. For example, let’s say I was fluent in Italian. I would have probably been able to complete a double major in Liberal Studies and Italian with very little problems while finishing my degree in Marketing from Bauer. Graduating with more than two degrees probably means you have some home field advantage and you’re able to skip a lot of prerequisites or simply test out of them.
For example, if you’re a math whiz then you’re probably able to test out of a lot of prerequisites for math and take the upper-level math courses sooner. Those upper-level math courses probably count toward some physics electives as well making it relatively easy to get a double major in math and physics while still giving you time to get a degree in Spanish if you choose.
My point is it’s possible. A lot of things are possible you just have to plan accordingly and communicate your intentions to the right people.
If you found this article helpful, please pass it along and visit my Facebook page for more resources. Are you thinking about doing a double major? What motivated your decision? Share your experience below! If you have any questions comments or concerns, you can address them here or in the comments section.