Why do one Master’s when you could do two at the same time? Growing numbers of students are opting to do two Master’s in order to increase their chances of a job — or simply because they can’t choose.
Photos: Aart-Jan van de Glind and Shutterstock
The number of students registered for two simultaneous Master’s has been increasing steadily since 2012, according to figures from VSNU, the Dutch association of universities (see figure). This trend is also evident at Wageningen University & Research, says Henk Vegter of the Education Research & Innovation department. The proportion of Wageningen students doing two Master’s concurrently has doubled in the past two years, from 1.1 to 2.3 percent.
Change in the legislation
On the other hand, the number of students doing two Master’s one after the other is decreasing. The rise in two simultaneous Master’s seems to be in response to the change in the legislation in 2010. From that date, the Dutch government stopped giving universities funding for students who had already completed one Master's degree. As a result, universities started charging higher tuition fees for students who wanted to do a second Master’s after their first Master’s degree. These so-called ‘institutional’ fees can be as much as 20,000 euros, substantially more than the statutory fees of nearly 2000 euros that you pay if you do not yet have a Master's degree. So as of 2010, doing two Master’s at the same time is considerably cheaper than doing them one after another.
An extra year
Wageningen students doing two Master’s simultaneously are allowed three years in which to complete their degrees. A maximum of 60 credits (ECTS) can be used to count towards both Master’s. The students do have to write a separate thesis for each degree.
Rolf van der Velden, a director of the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) and professor at Maastricht University, believes the double Master’s option is appealing in particular for students who want to improve their chances in the job market. ‘While this has yet to be researched, it seems logical to me that two Master’s will be more common where the outlook in the job market is poor. Students sometimes opt for a Master’s in a different area as a way of standing out from other students. In the past they would have achieved this by doing part of their degree abroad but now nearly everyone does that; it’s no longer distinctive.’
Incidentally, Van der Velden says it is debatable whether having two Master’s really gives you an advantage in the job market. ‘It can look rather weak. If the second Master’s is not really connected to the first Master's degree or the Bachelor’s, you will not be able to compete so well with students who have done the same Master's degree and a Bachelor's in that area. I would advise students to think long and hard about this. Will it improve their CV? And who are they trying to compete with?’
Percentage of Master’s students doing two Master’s
‘You have to be good at planning’
Céline Huiskamp, Master’s student doing Animal Sciences plus Management, Economics and Consumer Studies
When Céline Huiskamp got to the end of her Bachelor’s, she spoke to the study advisers for two degree programmes. She considered then possibly combining the two. ‘I didn’t know anyone who was doing that, certainly not with this combination.’ Céline thought a second Master’s focused on economics would be better than a minor in that field as it would put her in a stronger position in the job market. ‘I’m considering working in the financial sector, and a Master’s in economics would give a different impression to just a couple of modules.’
The student says you don’t have to be brilliant to combine two Master’s. ‘I’m going through my subjects fairly easily but I don’t think you have to be particularly talented. You do however have to be good at planning and keeping an overview.’ And you have to be prepared to deal with some extra hassle, for example when obtaining your study programme approval (SPA). ‘I had two different boards of examiners assessing my set of modules. It took forever before I finally got approval from both.’
Céline finds writing two theses the toughest part. ‘Writing is not something I enjoy doing. Also, many people who started my degree at the same time as me have now graduated so I have to make an extra effort to keep going.’
‘I can’t choose’
Jill Soedarso, Master’s student in Environmental Sciences plus International Land and Water Management
Jill Soedarso originally started doing the Environmental Sciences Master's, but in the course of the year she discovered that she was also really interested in International Land and Water Management. The work related to that study appealed more to her. She was soon looking at the option of doing a second Master’s. ‘I have a few friends who are doing two Master’s, which is what gave me the idea. On top of that, these two degrees are easy to combine.’
Jill does not see herself as an outstanding student. ‘I’ve never had above-average grades. The main reason I’m doing two Master’s now is because I can’t choose.’ Jill combines her two degrees with numerous extracurricular activities because the additional year gives her more time for this. She likes the fact that she can take a little longer to finish her studies: ‘Imagine if I’d finished my degree in the set minimum number of years, then I would be working from the age of 23 for the rest of my life! As a student, you have few worries and few responsibilities. I’m quite happy to have an extra year.’
At the moment, Jill is mainly studying modules in International Land and Water Management, because she did the environmental courses in her first year. After this, she will need to complete Academic Consultancy Training (ACT), an internship and two theses. Jill: ‘I do wonder how enthusiastic I will be about doing a second thesis after I’ve finished the first one. I may decide to stop then anyway. But my plan at the moment is to do both of them.’