J.D.-MBA Programs: Why and How to Apply

Depending on your career path, earning a joint degree in law and business can be worth the investment of both time and tuition.

Over the last few decades, trends in law and business have led to significant overlap between these two fields. Lawyers are increasingly called upon to think in terms of business strategy, and business leaders spend more time than ever grappling with legal regulations, compliance and risks.

The popularity of J.D.-MBA programs has grown accordingly. These joint programs allow students to finish both business and law degrees concurrently within the same university system, typically shaving a year off the five years it generally takes to earn both degrees separately. Some schools, like Northwestern University in Illinois and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, even offer accelerated three-year J.D.-MBA programs.

[Read: What an MBA Degree Is and What You Need to Know.]

J.D.-MBA programs vary in detail, but in most cases admitted students complete a year or two of law school, then a year of business school, then finish up with a mix of business and law classes. Beyond the typical core courses required for both degrees, participants might be required or encouraged to take extra courses focused on related topics like corporate law, securities law and finance.

How to Apply to a J.D.-MBA Program

J.D.-MBA programs are highly competitive. Some have an integrated application process, like the University of Pennsylvania. A few, like the University of Chicago in Illinois, even have a special track for undergraduate applicants who plan to defer admission for two to four years to gain work experience before matriculating in the program.

In most cases, however, applicants must apply separately to the business school and law school and earn admission to both. If you are accepted to one but not the other, you can try to add the second degree later or resign yourself to cross-registering for classes in the other school.

To apply, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and high scores on the LSAT and GMAT. Some programs may waive either the LSAT or GMAT, or accept the GRE instead of one or both of those tests.

[Read: What the GMAT Is and How to Prepare for the Test.]

Both programs will require application essays and recommendation letters. While you may feel tempted to submit the same essays and recommendation letters to both law and business schools to save time, this can be risky.

Application guidelines can differ significantly between law schools and business schools. For example, business schools often want recommendation letters to address specific questions, while law school recommendation letters are broader in focus.

Indeed, law schools and business schools are not necessarily looking for the same qualities in candidates. Business schools tend to look for candidates with at least three years of work experience, while law schools consider work experience helpful but less relevant than academic performance.

Due to such differences, it’s best to write separate essays for each school, even if they overlap in content. Ask your recommenders to tailor their letters separately, as well.

Do You Have to Apply to Both Programs at the Same Time?

If you miss your chance to apply concurrently to J.D.-MBA programs, don’t worry. Usually, J.D.-MBA students can apply to add on an MBA during their first year of law school. Since J.D. programs are longer and usually more selective than business school, this is an easier and more common route than starting as an MBA candidate and seeking to add on the J.D.

Because program details, deadlines and processes vary, it is safest to identify target J.D.-MBA programs you wish to attend and research their specifics. If you have questions, reach out to admissions officers.

Are J.D.-MBA Programs Worthwhile?

J.D.-MBA programs add a year of tuition and hard work on top of law school. This extra year also entails one more year of lost income while you attend school full time and it means graduating behind your classmates from both.

Furthermore, it’s hard to predict whether the extra classes you take will aid you in your career. After all, most lawyers and businesspeople do the bulk of their learning on the job. You may very well end up in a role that only loosely relates to your academic coursework.

Whether these programs are worth the cost depends on your personal interests and career goals. The credentials and knowledge you gain from joint J.D.–MBA degrees would be most helpful if you plan to practice law in the private sector or lead a business in a highly regulated market.

[Q&A: Advice for Law Students Hoping to Work at a Major Law Firm]

Jobs for graduates of J.D.-MBA programs could range from working in mergers and acquisitions for a top law firm to serving as an in-house counsel to a start-up or major corporation. It would also be a good option if you aspire to become an entrepreneur or professor of business law.

Certainly, having both degrees under your belt will help you stand out in your job search. You will also widen your network with colleagues from the joint program as well as contacts from each school. Those contacts will come in handy for climbing the corporate ladder and bringing in clients.

Thus, an investment in a J.D.-MBA may continue to pay off throughout your career, even if it requires more time and tuition dollars up front.

More from U.S. News

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J.D.-MBA Programs: Why and How to Apply originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/03/24: This post was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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