There’s mad hype around getting multiple degrees to complement or supplement a JD or MBA. It’s tempting: Why not apply to all the programs your heart desires? Pile ‘em on! What is there to lose?! Well, actually, a lot.
As someone who’s in the middle of a joint degree program, I can attest to the challenges: money, time, logistics of moving and relocating between programs, scheduling conflict, loss of leadership opportunities. Adding a degree will do nothing for you if you don’t have: (1) a clear vision for its use, (2) degrees that can operationalize into a job/networks/region that the other degree cannot, and (3) a clear understanding of which of the two is the core degree (more on what that means in a second).
I don’t say all of this to discourage anyone from pursuing a joint degree program. Not at all. I can’t talk seeing as how I’m pursuing a Masters of Public Affairs (which is essentially the same as a degree in public policy) and a JD. I think they’re quite resourceful, if done properly. A Masters degree can be an especially great way to structure and focus a graduate school education and should in no way be seen as a way to buffer your resume or a way to add some “thinking” time.
There is a general misconception that a Masters degree is not as poppin as a law degree or a business degree. Despite what the law snobs may assume, my Masters degree is in no way a sidepiece-type degree. It is actually the core of my graduate school education. What do I mean by that? It’s what I see myself doing in the long term, and the law degree is simply an extension of my focus on policy and the implications of law.
With this framework in mind, it’s easier for me to structure my law school classes around both: my regional focus, and the substantive courses that merge both the policy and law.
Now, here’s the fun part. How did I make this decision? Before applying, I thought through and unpacked a few goals:
What degree(s) is necessary in helping me to pursue my career?
I knew I did not want to strictly practice law for the long term. I wanted to understand the socioeconomic, political and economic implications of legal interpretation. I wanted rigorous statistics and economics training and wanted to be in a smaller program that would help me to tap into Policy work in DC. I wanted to structure my graduate school education around these goals, and needed a program that could mesh these goals with the most rigorous training. Once I laid out this groundwork, I thought through the various degree options.
Will this degree open up a regional network?
I wanted to be in DC. While my law degree offered me that opening, it did less so in the type of circles I wanted to tap into. I did my research on possible offices of interest and talked to alumni to get a feel of the type of people and backgrounds these people had. Nothing too deep. I don’t recommend Googling errybody. But talk to people who may have jobs you are interested in, ask them for advice and get a sense of where people are coming from. I found my Masters degree equipped me with a solid network of policy makers in specific departments I was interested in working alongside.
Can you craft a successful career without either one of these degrees?
To get over the hype, I recommend seriously considering which degrees can be cut out. Could I have done my law degree alone and achieved my goals? No. I got no training in economics, math or statistics. The law school network is phenomenal but I felt as though it was harder to leverage in non-legal spaces. Could I have gotten my masters and accomplished my goal? No. I would not be able to practice law. Period.
Before you go on this journey please don’t listen to the hype, if the joint program is not something you are 100% positive about, please please lose the fat. It matters less that you have mad degrees to show than an ability to navigate with the poppin’ one you do have. A Masters degree can really help to reinforce your long-term career ambitions by making you more of an expert on a topic, a region or by equipping you with a niche skillset—be creative with it! The degree is not meant to “help you figure it out.” It’s a weapon, not your battle plan.