A Window into Being a Dual Degree Student

We are the academic mavericks at SIPA. We take an extra long time to introduce ourselves in classes. But it’s only because we are a different breed. A different type of crazy. Some of us are staying on for as long as 4 years. Super seniority, all for a good cause.

For the purposes of this blog, my focus is on dual degree (DD) programs between SIPA and other schools within Columbia University. SIPA has dual degree partnerships with 8 schools, however, despite the MIA/MPA program similarities, some of these dual degrees exist with either MIA/MPA, but not both. Here are the options:

I am a dual degree International Affairs and Social Work student, which means that my program lasts for 3 years. Two of those years are spent not only taking classes at both schools, but also completing the required fieldwork hours for the social work program. Fieldwork encompasses a diversity of work, including policy advocacy, community organizing, therapeutic work with diverse populations, and supporting programmatic work at a variety of organizations. It obliges all social work students to complete 600 hours of work over two years. For me and other fellow dual SIPA/CUSSW DD-ers, it makes for frenetic days in which we scramble to/from schools/hospitals/non-profit organizations/UN offices/etc. and campus. In the midst of hair-tearing predicaments over deadlines and our clients’ issues, we continue the mad hamster-wheeled dash, constantly reminding ourselves that the reward is but over that faraway horizon.

The dual degree option is a giant undertaking. It will test your energy levels, resilience, and certainly, your bank account. Though it cannot be denied that having that second degree on your resume looks mighty impressive, it deserves a second, third and more thought before devoting yourself to this journey.

Here are the most important questions to ask yourself:

  1. Will this second degree actually advance my career goals/aspirations?
  2. Do I really want to spend the extra semester/year in school?
  3. Can I afford to spend the extra semester/year in debt?
  4. Do I have the willpower to last an extra semester/year in school?

Should you decide that the dual degree road is for you, here are the most important tips/suggestions I can offer you (in consultation with other fellow DD-ers):

  1. Communicate: Reach out to fellow DD-ers, your professors, your work/internship supervisors, and the Assistant Dean (Leah Gunn Barrett). They need to be aware of the fact that you are taking on a weighty challenge. Should something happen with one of your obligations, it will give you better leverage in the next step…
  2. Advocate: The ultimate test of grad school is in your own ability to advocate for your own needs. No one else can do this for you!


post contributed by Emily Siu, a dual degree Social Work  and International Affairs student — concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD)