Beyond Study Abroad: Joint and Dual Degrees in Germany

When he was getting ready to apply to college, Andrew Marchesseault was looking for “something different, something new.” For him, the University of Rhode Island (URI) offered just the thing to fit the bill. As an undergraduate, Marchesseault could earn two degrees at URI within five years – in engineering and a foreign language – and for his master’s degree he could enroll in an international dual degree program operated jointly by URI and one of the school’s international partner universities. This made URI “stand out” from the rest, said Marchesseault.

Marchesseault opted to study German. “When you think of high tech industry, Germany is renowned,” says Marchesseault. He adds that he found the language immersion to be extremely effective. “I learned more German in the first month in Braunschweig than during the four years of studying in a classroom.”

As an undergraduate, Marchesseault spent time at URI’s partner institution, the Technische Universität Braunschweig, and had an internship at a German engineering firm. He then continued as a graduate student in the international dual master’s program, earning two master’s in mechanical engineering – one from URI and one from the TU Braunschweig (which at the time still awarded the Diplom as the equivalent of a master’s). Currently, Marchesseault is finishing up his PhD at the TU Braunschweig.

A Growing Trend
Marchesseault is part of a growing trend of students choosing to pursue international experience and a second degree that they expect will enhance their job prospects.

Although the semester abroad has long been part of the American educational scene, Germany has been a leader in promoting international dual and joint degree programs. A joint degree is a single degree conferred by two (or more) partner institutions, whereas a dual or double degree entails two separate degrees conferred by two partner institutions. The dual degree is the more popular form of collaborative degree, and while such degrees are conferred at all levels of study – bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral – the dual master’s is the most common in Germany and in many other countries.

Estimates indicate that there are more than 500 dual and joint degree programs offered by German universities today. And the numbers are growing, both in Germany and Europe, where such degrees have also been popular for some time, as well as across North America, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, regions that have come to the scene more recently.

“Not only are the numbers growing, but such programs are growing in importance,” says Matthias Kuder, of the Center for International Cooperation at the Freie Universität in Berlin and the author of several studies on joint and dual degree programs. And a 2011 survey by the International Association of Universities found that collaborative programs ranked fifth among respondents’ strategies for internationalization, whereas just six years ago, in 2005, they ranked eighth.

In addition to internationalization, says Kuder, a collaborative degree allows an institution to extend the range of its offerings by partnering with a complimentary program at another university, and it can help a lesser known institution raise its profile when it allies itself with a university with a more established reputation.

A “Mind-Opening” Experience
For the student, the advantages are many. In addition to giving the graduate a global edge, a potential employer may look favorably on such a graduate because collaborative programs have a “reputation for being more demanding and, thus, for attracting a higher caliber student,” says Kuder.

The internship that forms a mandatory part of many degrees in Germany also presents a competitive advantage. “The favorite part of my dual degree experience was doing an internship,” says Kelly Cook, who completed a dual engineering master’s-Diplom program at URI and TU Braunschweig. “I feel much more confident in looking for a job now,” adds Cook, who did an internship at Siemens’s research and development division in Germany.

Finally, there is the potential for promoting personal growth and cross-cultural understanding. “It was definitely a mind-opening and eye-opening experience,” says Marchesseault of his time in Germany. “It’s an experience I wish a lot more people could have so they would understand how interconnected the world is. If everyone did some exchange program, even if just for a few months, we’d have a better understanding of each other.”

Learn more about international joint and dual degrees operated in partnership with German universities at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.