JD/MBAs: Who’s Crazy Enough To Get Both Degrees?

“Deep intellectual thirst”

A JD/MBA can be helpful in many different careers, but getting one often isn’t strictly about job prospects. After all, there’s no role in the world that requires it. Some programs, like Penn’s, expect applicants to have a post-graduation plan of sorts—“we require them to have a pretty clear understanding of their career goals and how both degrees are going to be necessary for them to meet them,” France says—but many others, like Stanford’s and Northwestern’s, are a little more forgiving. “It’s rare to see a student who knows exactly how both degrees are going to come into play in a career,” Bolton says. Mulcahy adds that realistically speaking, students often change their minds during the program anyway.

There’s one thing the admissions officials do agree on: JD/MBA applicants should display a “deep intellectual thirst” that isn’t just about ROI. “They love kind of digging into contracts, and then going from that into a class on managing a growing enterprise and the challenges associated with that,” Bolton says. Plus, the program provides them with a “risk-free environment—a chance to really explore themselves.”

Both Hsia and Drake match Bolton’s description. Hsia was removed from civilian life between the ages of 17 and 27, and when he came back, he needed an adjustment period. “It took me a while to not have a military mindset,” he says. “That means not having to say sir, or ma’am, or professor, or just understanding what the business world is all about.”

He initially came to Stanford for the credentials—but actually going through the JD/MBA program has made him see it as a chance to rediscover life without a uniform. “I’ve been able to explore different career opportunities without having to fully commit to a job via internships,” Hsia says. “I think a lot of people rationalize and say that what they’re doing now is really great, but I just feel like the JD/MBA has truly given me a lot of opportunities.”

Drake gravitated to the JD/MBA out of a similar desire to try new things. Even during his time in real estate, “I really found myself kind of interested in the legal questions,” he says. He feels that his fellow JD/MBAs are students who, like him, couldn’t imagine settling on one degree. “The people who do really well have kind of intellectual curiosity that doesn’t fit very well into either box,” he explains.

That curiosity explains why Drake decided not to graduate in three years, even though it’s an option at Duke. “I saw grad school as kind of my last, best opportunity to do all the things intellectually that I would ever want to do,” he says. “Being able to have a free summer to kind of chart my own course as opposed to filling it up with required classes just to graduate—that was the tradeoff I ended up deciding upon in my mind.”

JD/MBAs “dream bigger dreams”

Appropriately for a program that doesn’t have set career options, there’s no set procedure for applying. Whether a school requires both the GMAT and the LSAT, whether a school requires just one, whether there’s a joint application process, whether it’s possible to apply during your 1L year, whether work experience is a must or just a plus—for lack of a better word, it’s a crapshoot.

The way higher education is going, though, standardization might not be far away. 21 might not be a big number, but Stanford now has more JD/MBAs than it’s had in decades.

Elite three-year programs are increasing their reach as well. Penn’s, launched in 2009, has been “a huge success since we’ve launched it,” France says. “Our application volume has grown each year. Our students are successful academically, they’re engaged and involved here, they’re taking on leadership roles, and they’re doing really well in the employment market.” Plus, those applicants tend to go for multiple three-year programs. “It seems that many of our candidates, at least from what we see, are applying to both Columbia and Northwestern,” France says.

France points out that the economic crisis has increased student interest in business issues in the regulatory environment—where law and business collide. Speaking more broadly, Bolton says Millennials are more receptive to joint and dual degree programs; in fact, many undergraduates are already in them. “I think part of it is that this is a generation that is—I don’t want to say optimistic,” he muses, pausing. “They are very willing to take on big problems.”

The vast majority of JD/MBAs aren’t just trying to cover all their bases. For a variety of reasons, they share the belief that one degree without the other simply isn’t enough. Far from stiffs in suits, they’re broad thinkers who are “unwilling to make tradeoffs,” Bolton says. “In a nutshell, I think they dream bigger dreams when they finish this program than they did when they started.”


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