Considering the JD-MBA? Inside information, advice and perspective from a current student

Nelson Hua / Morningside Muckraker
Nelson Hua / Morningside Muckraker

“Is it worth it?” I had maybe asked myself that question at least half a dozen times while contemplating the potential $60K/year decision in adding an M.B.A. to my J.D. Not too long ago, shortly after accepting my offer to attend Columbia Law, I found out about Columbia’s J.D.-M.B.A. program. Most critically, I was intrigued by the program length: three years—two degrees. From a business perspective, this was pure marketing genius; the ability to quickly obtain two advanced level degrees from two top ten national programs was, in and of itself, attractive. And yet it is completely the wrong way to think about whether to do the joint degree. Aside from being an implicit recognition by Columbia that law school can effectively be condensed to two years and business school to 1 year (topics that have already been discussed ad nauseam, just not here), the fact that the joint J.D.-M.B.A. is offered at 3 years should just be one of many factors in answering the complex question: “Is it worth it… for ME?” The J.D.-M.B.A. is not for everyone and shouldn’t be. I know it may be tempting to think “two degrees in the same amount of time as one? No brainer;” but STOP right there. Instead, it helps to consider several factors, assess their importance to you (i.e. assign relative weights), and consider pros and cons. Then at the end of the day, go with your “informed” gut feeling. Luckily for you I’ve done a lot of the information gathering (although, disclaimer: it’s non-exhaustive).

The things I’m about to discuss are not really available anywhere online or otherwise; you can find most details about the program/coursework/cost/etc. readily online. That being said, let’s dive right in.

[Austin Uhm] JD-MBA

The Basics: Timing

If you are a 1L or a 0L (congrats on getting into CLS!) you have two program options: the 3-Year or the 4-Year J.D.-M.B.A. program. If you are a 2L, you can only apply to the 4-Year program. They cost exactly the same in terms of tuition and you can start both at the same time (after your 1L year) or for the 4-Year you can start after your 2L year.

The 3-Year Program:

This is the more popular choice in recent years after the program was introduced, for fairly obvious reasons (the 4-Year program has been around a lot longer, but the 3-Year program is getting more attention as the shortened joint degree). Here are some of what I personally consider to be the pros and cons of the program.

The M.B.A.: How it’s different from law school

The Business School is a completely different animal from the Law School. My first day of B-school Orientation involved me high-fiving a dozen second year Peer Advisors who were geared up in commando gear, superhero costumes, hippy-style wear, and other theme-based clothing that represented each “cluster” (in law school we call these “sections”). There were shouts, dances, chants, clapping, and a frenzied energy in the air. Law school orientation had none of the aforementioned features, to say the least. Your classmates are also very different—over 40% are international and while many are career-switchers, there are others who are there for career advancement with their current employers. Classes feel very modern, with interactive clicker polls, group projects in your “learning teams” and cluster-wide trips where over 250 MBA students descend on an exotic locale for community “bonding” (this year we’re flying to the Dominican Republic). The activities are non-stop, since recruiting starts almost immediately with recruiters and executives from Fortune 500 companies, major banks, and consulting firms descending for on-campus events, which are de facto mandatory if you want to secure an interview come January when on-campus interviewing starts. At many of these recruiting events, the recruiters will take attendance and also log the quality and quantity of your interactions with them.

Application Requirements

The application is fairly standard with two required recommendations and a recent GRE/GMAT score. Honestly, both tests are easier than the LSAT. If you’re not confident in your math, take the GRE, but the GMAT’s math section is doable if you study a bit.

Choosing a Program: 3-Year vs. 4-Year J.D.-M.B.A.  

Be very deliberate and careful about choosing the right program for you: Columbia is not very flexible in switching between the two programs. If you apply to the 4-Year, you cannot switch to the 3-Year after your 1L year for reasons that are mysterious to me. If you apply to the 3-Year, you can switch to the 4-Year BUT after you start the M.B.A. in August and your bill is generated, and you will be on the hook for the extra tuition.

Sample tuition matrix[1]:

Semester 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
3 Year 100% L 100% L 150% B 150% B 150% L 150% L n/a n/a
4 Year 100% L 100% L 100% B 100% B 100% L 100% L 100% B 100% L
3 to 4 Year* 100% L 100% L 150% B 100% B 100% L 100% L 100% B 100% L

L = law school tuition (semester); B = business school tuition (semester)

*Switch mid-way through semester 3. Bill for 150% B has already been generated.

In the third row, you would not be refunded the extra 50% business school tuition you paid (~$15K) and will still be responsible for the regular 4-Year joint program tuition for the remaining semesters. So not choosing the right program from the get-go can become a $15K decision (and up to $30K if you change your mind in semester 4).

Under the 3-Year Program in year two you pay $90k (annually) or $45k (semester)

Under the 4 Year Program in year two you pay $60k (annually) or $30k (semester).

So if you switch from the 3-Year to the 4-Year program during 3rd semester (Fall semester of Year 2) you forfeit this $15K ($45k – 30k) that you paid extra having being charged at the higher rate.

In terms of semesters, for the 3-Year program you are in residency with the law school for 4 semesters, and the business school for 2 semesters. For the 4-Year program the breakdown is Law: 5 semesters; Business: 3 semesters.

Benefits: it’s all about options

As a millennial, it is more likely than not that my next job will not be my last. For most, long gone are the days of finding a lifelong job post-graduation even for those fairly set on a particular career path. Given this context, networking and keeping your options open are of paramount importance. Almost all the attorneys I interviewed with during EIP stated that the 3-Year J.D.-M.B.A. seemed like a no-brainer for someone interested in corporate law. Also some firms give a bonus to J.D.-M.B.A.’s ranging from a $15K signing bonus to advanced class standing/pay (so as a 2017 grad I would be paid and treated the same as the 2016 class). Some firms have the information on their website; others you’ll have to confirm with recruiting if they have a different policy for J.D.-M.B.A.’s.

The Richman Center:

There is a dedicated center for J.D.-M.B.A.’s called the Richman Center, which in recent years has become more active. They put on special events, dinners, as well as offer a mentorship program pairing J.D.-M.B.A.’s with working executives, many of whom are J.D.-M.B.A. alumni. This is a useful resource in learning more about how to leverage the dual degree and thinking about future career plans.

Costs other than $$$: limited options during school

That being said, if you are admitted to the 3-Year J.D.-M.B.A. program, know that your course options will be quite limited. It is highly recommended to take Corporations as your 1L elective during the Spring semester and the bulk of your course load during your second and third years will comprise of cross-listed courses in the law and business schools. It may also be very difficult to study abroad, since while fulfilling credit requirements for both schools, it may be tough to add a semester abroad with courses that may not count for either (or both) schools. Clinics, externships, or internships may also be more difficult to add to your schedule since most of your classes will probably have to be cross-listed.

Closing Thoughts
Making the decision is ultimately about asking yourself what your goals and aspirations are for the M.B.A. are, and how that ties (or does not tie) into your future plans. If you’ve come straight from undergrad, having an extra summer to try a different industry may help you formulate your career plan. On the flip side, if you’ve worked for several years, maybe you already have a clear, laser-like focus on what you want to do post-graduation and want to get in and out as soon as possible. Be honest with yourself and talk to people if you need further help with the decision. We’re all really friendly so feel free to reach out!

[1] Note: this matrix is based on the information I have gathered by attending information sessions as well as my own experience of being a J.D.-M.B.A.


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