Getting a Second Bachelor's Degree
Whether you’re looking to change careers or want in-depth knowledge on a number of subjects to prepare for your dream job, earning a second bachelor’s degree could be a good fit.
“If a student decides to do a second bachelor’s degree, I think it would give much more knowledge to make them more rounded academically and professionally,” said Ryan Chapman, a career outreach specialist at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
Bachelor’s degree programs give students a wealth of information that can prepare them for entry-level and management positions across a variety of fields and can significantly boost their earnings.
Comparing median weekly earnings in 2019, earning a bachelor’s degree could increase your paycheck by more than 70% compared to working without a college degree, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even when compared to an associate degree, median weekly earnings increase 46% for bachelor’s degree holders.
Earning a second bachelor's degree can give you a broader educational foundation that sets you apart when applying for jobs or graduate school. It can also help you start a new career path.
Is earning two bachelor degrees right for you? To see if it is, consider the logistics and potential benefits of a second undergraduate degree.
Can You Get Two Bachelor’s Degrees?
Thinking about going back to school? You might be wondering how to get a second bachelor’s degree and whether two undergraduate degrees is even possible.
That was the challenge that Alicia Hannigan ‘16 faced when she was an undergraduate.
As a declared psychology major, Hannigan knew she wanted to focus her future career on working with children. While her psychology courses covered some aspects of child development, she found herself wanting deeper knowledge on the subject and decided to add a second bachelor’s degree in child development to her workload.
Earning two bachelor's degrees simultaneously was a lot of work, and doing it successfully required detailed planning with faculty and academic advisors, Hannigan said.
"Regardless of what I wanted to do after graduation, I knew I wanted to work with kids so it made sense to tack on the child development major," Hannigan said. "What made it easier was that the two programs overlapped enough and meshed really well together that it didn't feel like I was working on two separate degrees."
With careful planning and scheduling, Hannigan was able to graduate with both undergraduate degrees in four years.
If you’re considering a second bachelor’s degree, there are some important logistics to consider, including when you’ll earn your second degree and how you’ll pay for it.
How Does a Second Bachelor’s Degree Work?
Some students, like Hannigan, are able to complete the coursework for two bachelor’s degrees simultaneously. For Hannigan, this meant taking the maximum course load allowed each semester and working to find classes that would apply to both degrees whenever possible.
Earning your degrees simultaneously can work especially well if your degrees are in a similar line of study, said Chapman.
“I would tell students to choose a second bachelor’s degree if it compliments their other bachelor degree,” he said. “For example if a business student is looking for a career in the business world, they may choose a second degree like IT because both knowledge bases would complement one another.”
Another option is to pursue a second bachelor’s degree after graduating with your first four-year degree. Some students choose to immediately move into a new degree program after graduating, but many return for a second undergraduate degree years later, after deciding to pursue a new career path or needing specific undergraduate coursework for admittance into a graduate degree program.
Can You Get Financial Aid for a Second Bachelor’s Degree?
How you pay for a second bachelor’s degree, and whether financial aid is available, depends on your personal financial aid history.
Students earning undergraduate degrees are eligible for Federal Stafford loans, but there are limits on how much you can borrow annually and in total throughout your academic career. If you already met your total borrowing limit while earning your first bachelor’s degree, you may not qualify for additional Stafford loans.
However, there are other ways to pay for a second bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate students may be eligible for the Federal Work-Study program and can take advantage of private loans and even scholarships from your university and private or nonprofit organizations.
You may also qualify for tuition assistance from your employer, particularly if a second undergraduate degree would benefit your current position or help you earn a promotion.
Should You Earn a Second Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree?
If you’re considering a second degree, it’s important to review all of your educational options. While a second undergraduate degree might be the best fit, Chapman said many students might see a bigger benefit by moving into a master’s degree program.
“I think it makes a lot more sense for students to pursue a master’s degree over a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “It is a higher-level degree that may make them more marketable.”
Master’s degrees have been shown to improve lifetime earnings and reduce rates of unemployment.
Master’s degree holders earned a median weekly salary of $1,559 in 2019, compared to $1,281 for bachelor’s degree holders, according to BLS data. The unemployment rate for master’s degree holders was 2.1% in 2018, compared to 2.2% for bachelor’s degree holders and 2.8% for associate degree holders.
Still, there may be times when earning a second bachelor’s degree is the best option.
A bachelor’s degree may be the education you need to start a new career path, particularly if the subject is very different from your first undergraduate degree.
You may need specific undergraduate coursework before earning a master’s degree in a new field, or you may simply want the opportunity to dive deep into more than one field of study to boost your credentials and knowledge for your desired career.
For Hannigan, earning a second bachelor's degree before moving on to a master's degree program was the best fit.
"I knew I wanted to earn a master's degree in some form, and I knew I wanted to work with kids and do therapy work," she said. "But as an undergraduate, not being confident in exactly what I wanted to do, I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket before getting a master's degree."
Is a Second Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?
Hannigan said she believes her decision to earn a second bachelor’s degree gave her the strong foundation she needed to earn a master's degree and start her career.
After graduating with two undergraduate degrees, she went on to earn a master's degree in mental health counseling and behavioral medicine. She said her bachelor's degrees not only prepared her for the rigor of a graduate degree program, they also helped boost her resume when applying for graduate school.
Today, Hannigan works as a mental health counselor and an adjunct faculty member at SNHU. While she works with patients of all ages, her focus is on children under the age of 13.
Her career, she said, would not be the same if she hadn't earned her second bachelor's degree in child development.
"I'm extremely grateful that I chose to pursue the dual degree knowing that I wanted to work with children," she said. "I credit the foundation of my child development knowledge to that program ... I use the second degree that I added on every single day in the work I do with kids."
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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