“It just moved the timetable up and seemed like a great way to bring my education full circle,” says Marquis, 22. “Coming out of school with a master’s degree gives you more credentials and allows you to speak with more authority than someone else at a similar age who doesn’t have that full breadth of educational experience. You’re able to walk a little taller and speak with a little more confidence.”
Marquis is in his last year of a five-year program through which he’s already earned a bachelor’s in foreign service, and he’ll graduate in 2017 with a master’s in security studies. You can find these kinds of accelerated programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees at universities throughout the D.C. area, and they can be beneficial to students who have a clear-cut career path. But they also bring with them some trade-offs that need to be considered.
You’ll see the most obvious benefits of an accelerated program in your bank account and iCalendar. “It’s a great deal economically for the right student, because what it’s doing is saving time and money,” says educational consultant and admissions strategist Steven Roy Goodman. A standalone master’s program typically takes about two years, so a combo approach shaves off a year — and a year’s tuition.
It also allows students to keep the momentum they’ve established in their undergrad years. “It gives you continuity,” says Anthony Arend, senior associate dean for graduate and faculty affairs at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. “If you know what you want to do, you shouldn’t have to go out and spend two years doing something else [before getting a master’s].”
Plus, it guarantees that you do actually get that master’s degree you need or want before life gets in the way. “It’s very easy to say you’re going to work a couple of years and then go back to school,” says Colleen Paparella Ganjian, founder of DC College Counseling. “But once you get into the real world and mom and dad stop paying the bills, you might put it off, and then you’re getting married and buying a house.”
It’s a particularly wise move if you’re planning to work in a field like education, engineering or accounting, where a master’s degree is strongly encouraged or required for advancement. “Nowadays, a master’s is the new bachelor’s,” says Peter Kofinas, associate dean for faculty affairs and graduate programs at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. “So you become more competitive in the workforce.”
But it can be hard to make such a major decision at a young age. Some combination bachelor’s-master’s programs require students to apply straight out of high school; for many others, students apply during their junior year of college.
“I always tell people that at that age you’re really in an exploratory phase,” says Eric Allen, president of Admit.me, which connects college applicants with admissions experts, alumni and current students. “A lot of times people choose it too early; they don’t know what they want to do and then get locked in.”
Taking some time between getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees can be beneficial for students who don’t have their careers quite figured out yet. “It gives you the opportunity to go into your field and get work experience, explore different career options and then make the determination that you want to come back and get a master’s degree,” Arend says. That can be especially helpful when deciding on concentrations.
Getting both degrees from the same school can be a drawback in some cases. You might interact with the same professors at each level and not feel like you’re getting a variety of academic and geographic experiences.
“One thing I talk about a lot are the benefits of multiple networks,” Allen says. “The world is all about who you know and your connections.”
Marquis considers remaining at the same school both a pro and a con. On the plus side, he’s already familiar with the teaching style at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and its approach to different topics. “The overlap allows you to consolidate a lot of your learning; you’re building on and refining that knowledge,” he says. “But at the same time, you don’t get a different exposure to some of the same topics.”
In the end, it comes down to whether an accelerated program is right for each particular student.
“My experience with students who have done these accelerated degrees is that they tend to be extraordinarily motivated, extraordinarily academically qualified and tend to perform very well in their careers,” Arend says. “But I don’t believe it’s a degree for everyone.”