Business + Public Affairs: is a “dual degree” right for you?

We’re very pleased to share this guest post. Key Contributors: senior consultant Akiba Smith-Francis (Harvard MBA/Harvard Kennedy School MPA) and senior consultant Jeff Phillips (Kellogg MBA/Harvard Kennedy School MPA).

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Public Policy (MPP) programs are designed for those seeking careers that help solve social challenges through government agencies or non-profit entities.

In contrast, Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs primarily attract those individuals who want to work at, manage and help grow for-profit enterprises (although there are some students who see the utility of an MBA for a career path in the non-profit sector).

For those who want to cover all the bases and be positioned to lead for-profit, nonprofit, and/or governmental entities over multi-phase career, a three-year MBA/MPP or MBA/MPA dual-degree program might be the answer. These programs enable their students to make a mark at the intersection of the public and private sectors, such as regulatory compliance roles at a corporation or commercial development positions in government.

If you’re clear about what you want to do professionally – and if that career vision would significantly benefit from the knowledge, perspective and networks acquired from two master’s programs – then the decision to “go dual” is an easy one.

However, if you’re a business person with only a personal interest in policy and government, or if you’re heading for a public sector career but would like to learn more about business, then there are far easier ways to do so. Most universities allow “cross registration” so students in one program can select an elective course or two from a different program across campus.

And remember, earning a dual degree is more expensive because it requires an additional year of study and foregone income. It could also reduce your appeal as a candidate for summer internships if a potential employer sees the second degree as being irrelevant to their mission.

Some individuals believe that being a dual-degree applicant increases their chances for admission to both programs. Not true. Universities with both business and public affairs schools can easily spot someone who presents a candidacy that is unqualified or inappropriate for a dual track.

So, what is the profile of an ideal MBA/MPP or MBA/MPA candidate? Someone who is well versed in policy and macroeconomic issues, has demonstrated quantitative skills, and has a long-term career goal that is relevant to both business and public affairs.

One final bit of advice: If you’re determined to pursue two degrees, it’s usually better to begin with the public affairs program. The acceptance rates are higher than at comparable MBA programs. And most business schools have larger cohorts and place more emphasis on “networking” – so graduating and entering the job market with MBA classmates could be quite beneficial.

If you’d like to get a sense of your competitiveness for the most selective business and/or public affairs programs, request a free evaluation from The MBA Exchange. With a consulting team that features top grads from both types of schools, and consulting services for each, our guidance and support could be your competitive advantage when it comes to admission.