Oberlin Blogs

Everything You Should Know About the Double Degree Program

March 5, 2021

Ryan Dearon ’18

First, I’ll warn you this is a long-ish post (but worth the read!). Second, this post focuses on how awesome the double degree program can be, but I should also say that those doing a single degree are just as awesome. I just want to share some information since I get so many questions from prospective students about this topic. Third, the views expressed here are my own… but are substantiated with facts from the school.

As you may know, Oberlin is comprised of our liberal arts college, a small school with around 2,400 students that emphasizes intellectual exploration and exposure to a broad range of knowledge/subjects and focuses on undergraduate learning (contrasting with a university, which is typically larger and caters toward both undergraduate and graduate students), and a conservatory of music, a specialized school dedicated to offering pre-professional training and education. Students in the College of Arts & Sciences pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree that includes majors within the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Most conservatory students are at the undergraduate level pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in one of our classical performance areas (including historical performance), composition, electroacoustic music composition in our TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) program, or Jazz Studies (either focused on performance or composition).

We also offer the five-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Music double degree program, which is a unique one amongst higher educational institutions across the country, combining coursework from both of our school divisions. Here are the top three reasons why:

  1. Many double or dual degree programs are associated with large universities and a school of music/conservatory. This is fine if you want a large school vibe while pursuing your bachelor’s degrees, but if you want a more tight-knit community like at Oberlin, university structures can be a bit daunting.
  2. Both of our divisions share the same campus, which makes the entire experience much more feasible, accessible, and integrated. Oftentimes, double degree programs at other schools are split between two campuses or two different institutions.
  3. A significant portion of the student population participates in our double degree program. There are around 560 students in the conservatory of music and about a third of them are pursuing the double degree program.

NOTE: The use of the term “college” below refers to our College of Arts & Sciences. Sometimes I use “DD” as an acronym for “double degree.”

Here are 14 common questions about the double degree program at Oberlin:

Why pursue the double degree program at Oberlin? The answer to this varies widely, but at its core, you get a rewarding and complete education in both areas. Mike Manderen ‘76, our former director of conservatory admissions and current lecturer in guitar, lute, and historical plucked strings, once said in a publication on the double degree program: “Oberlin seeks a balance between the two [school divisions] by offering a first-rate double-degree program, while, at the same time, expecting to attract and enroll students who seek a more narrowly focused program [in the conservatory]. The success of our double-degree program has everything to do with our ability to attract both types of students.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. The true beauty of Oberlin is that students can choose to have an entirely music-focused education or a liberal arts education, both of the highest standards, plus the option to have both–it doesn't have to be an either/or situation. Traditional conservatory education doesn’t always fully engage the inner intellectual, but here, both musical and scholarly needs are well met.

Who should apply to the program? I repeatedly hear students apply for both degrees because they want to keep their options for a career open, maybe they’re not sure what they want to commit their lives to so soon; others want to keep up their academic interests (my reason!), or they just appreciate a liberal arts education. There are many worthwhile reasons to apply. If you think you’re interested in both, I encourage you to go for it. You’ll of course need to demonstrate a high level of academic and artistic achievement–but this doesn’t mean the bar is so high that you need to be a genius or virtuoso to be admitted as a DD student; if you have the work ethic, self-discipline, and strong musical potential, it is quite attainable.

How do I apply for the double degree program? Can you apply once you’re already an enrolled student? Those interested in applying for the DD program have to apply to each division separately–there is no single, joint application for the program. Each division has its own admissions office with different requirements (conservatory applicants must complete an audition or interview) and deadlines (the college offers binding Early Decision options, the conservatory does not). The review process of your application materials is done independently for the most part, thus it is possible to be accepted into one division and not the other. Though should this happen and an applicant still decides to enroll, they have the option to apply for the other degree portion as part of the DD program once on campus. This is also true for current students who did not apply for the program outright, but realize during their time here that they would like to pursue it. Due to studio limitations, it is not as guaranteed that students will be able to add the conservatory degree as it is they are able to add the college degree. I should also note that tuition is the same for DD students as is for single-degree students! Of course, there is another year added; however, financial aid is extended for the fifth year. See more here.

Does applying to the double degree program hurt your chances of admission into the conservatory? No. In fact, I have seen many instances where faculty are excited upon finding out that a conservatory applicant is also applying to the college. It does not necessarily influence the faculty's decision about admission, but it does let them know that the applicant has other skills that may inform their artistry in beneficial ways. Because the DD program is such a cornerstone of this institution, our faculty support it. Many professors speak about the advantages our students have with access to the college, even if they’re not a double degree student, because of the skills you can learn and subjects you can explore to broaden your thinking and worldview. 

Can you finish the double degree program in four years? It is possible to finish the DD program in four years, though it is not super common. Since it’s sort of like you’re combining two four-year degrees together, the five years allotted is often needed to complete all of the requirements. But students who enter their journey at Oberlin with AP or IB credits definitely cut some time off, so it is more likely that they finish the program in four and a half years.

How many non-Oberlin credits can you bring into the double degree program? Students entering the DD program can bring up to five full academic classes worth of credits. Full academic classes are typically four credits at Oberlin. Once matriculated, you can transfer up to 3 more full academic classes (or the equivalent credits).

Can you share what the degree requirements are for the double degree program? This answer can be somewhat confusing because of all the credits and figuring out how that translates to numbers of classes, especially given that some classes don’t follow our standard four-credit model for full courses. But, if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts, read on:

  • 214 minimum total credits: Each DD student must have a minimum of 214 combined Conservatory and Arts & Sciences credits in order to graduate. 
  • 110 minimum Conservatory credits (conservatory-only students must have a min. of 168 credits, which include 32 credits/8 classes in the college as electives).
  • 88 minimum Arts & Sciences credits: These 88 credits must include completion of 22 full courses or the equivalent (college-only students must have a min. of 32 courses).
  •  7 semesters in residence: Students must be enrolled at Oberlin or in Oberlin-affiliated programs for a minimum of seven semesters. 
  • 3 Winter Term projects: This requirement is the same for both DD and single-degree students. 
  • Completion of a major in each degree program: DD students must fulfill all requirements for their declared majors in both divisions. Oftentimes, completing a major in the conservatory means all course requirements are met, just as any BM-only student, minus a few electives. Thus, DD students get immersed in the full BM degree program rather than in a kind of semi-present experience doing only part of their conservatory studies as a part of a DD program.

DD students can take up 26 credits each semester.

How is the double degree program structured? Here is a sample first-year first semester schedule in Jazz Guitar with an undeclared college major:

List of classes and credits. Transcription follows.

Image transcription

List of classes and the number of credits for each: 

  • First Year Seminar, 4 credits
  • Music History 101: Intro to History and Literature of Music, 4 credits
  • Jazz Theory, 4 credits
  • Music Theory 131, 4 credits
  • Aural Skills 1, 2 credits
  • Small Jazz Ensemble, 2 credits
  • Principal Private Study Jazz Guitar, 6 credits

26 credits total.

The first two years are quite music-heavy actually and don’t differ much from conservatory-only students’ schedules. There is typically some delaying of certain music classes to fit in one or two college courses in the first couple of semesters. Once you get to your third year, you’ll have most of the “busywork” completed in the conservatory and your schedule in those last 3 years can be filled out with academic classes for your college major.

How do you balance the workload of the double degree program? Is it manageable? Completing the DD program is definitely manageable. 70% of students who start the program complete it in five years. However, this truly depends on the individual. Sometimes it felt like there were never enough hours in the day to get all of my work done and I think almost everyone feels like they should be practicing more. And yes, there can occasionally seem like there’s pressure to commit all of your time and energy into music. But if intellectual stimulation is fulfilling for you too, then the key to finding balance and thriving as a DD student is being focused, organized, having great time management skills, and knowing how to prioritize what is most important for you. Sometimes, this can change week to week, based on the workload, but how you manage the time you invest in either degree requirements may also come down to where you see yourself after Oberlin.

Google calendar image showing class blocks

This was my class schedule from my second semester of my second year where I took a full course load of credits for DD students. I was able to do this while working a couple of student jobs, plus being a part of and leading various clubs and student organizations. I don’t necessarily recommend doing so much (though most Obies are quite ambitious), but it’s possible. There are also so many resources for double degree students who need support: your private teacher, your college major advisor, deans, friends/peers, and staff in our Center for Student Success and our Counseling Center.

What if I change my mind in doing the double degree? Personally, I find Oberlin quite flexible in the ways in which they allow students to pursue what matters most to them. If that means you realize in your third year that you don’t want to do the double degree anymore, that’s fine. The deadline to drop either degree usually must happen by the end of your fourth year.

Alternatively, there are students who want to explore academics and continue their musical passions, but find the DD program overwhelming or tedious. Conservatory students can now add an official minor in the college, college students can pursue a BA in music or minor in the conservatory, and all can pursue an interdivisional minor combining college and conservatory coursework, without having to be in the other degree program. So, you could complete your BM degree with a purely academic minor in four years.

Whether you’re in the program or not, everyone can take full advantage of what our campus offers. Music is EVERYWHERE on campus, and having a college connected to the conservatory opens up room to visit art galleries, go to a football game, or just generally keep your musical mind active in critical thought about the greater world outside of performing or composing.

Can double degree students study abroad? Yes, although it can sometimes take careful planning if you intend to continue your musical study. You’ll need to discuss traveling abroad with your private teacher (and possibly one of the conservatory deans) about expectations for keeping up with your music. They may know of international programs where previous students have been able to take music classes that can apply toward the BM degree. DD students often use Winter Term to travel abroad as well, either individually, with other students, or under the sponsorship of an Oberlin faculty or staff member. Additionally, many study away programs are also offered during the summer. There is special funding available to help sponsor the costs of a Winter Term project or summer experience.

Do double degree students still get to perform in the same ensembles and participate in the same kinds of performances and academic opportunities? Yes! DD students play just as frequently in the same ensembles, both large and small, as conservatory-only students. Our conductors have specifically structured the orchestral ensembles program to accommodate the busy DD schedules by having different groups rehearse at different times. Opportunities to be featured in masterclasses, special concerts, and win select awards are equal amongst all conservatory students. Several of our recent past senior concerto competition winners were in the DD program. Students in the program also have access to pursuing advanced work in the college through honors projects in certain academic departments and/or completing research with faculty (faculty/student research is also possible in certain areas in the conservatory as well).

Can you have a social life while pursuing two degrees? What about participating in clubs, sports, or student organizations? The way that socializing works in Oberlin, it’s kinda hard not to have a social life of some sort. Friends will be found in either people you meet in your residence hall, peers you end up working with in a class, or other students in your studio. In fact, I found time to prioritize being social in my week, scheduling check ins or lunch dates with with my buddies. DD students also have time for fun. It’s really important to live a little (or a lot) and part of what I think your college years are for is to grow and connect with people. Make memories. Stay up late and discuss the universe or what makes Brahms’ music so spiritual.

As far as clubs/student orgs/sports go, I’ve known DD students on the track team, leading our Conservatory Council of Students, playing with our Ultimate Frisbee team, some get involved in our student cooperative living/dining program, OSCA, or perhaps participating in ExCos. I would caution against stretching oneself too thin, but if you love something and can handle the commitment, try it out for a semester! It’s all definitely possible.

What career paths are common for double degree students? Alumni records show that the ensuing careers of DD grads are split equally between music and other professions, particularly business, education, law, science and medicine. Each year, there are a select number of grads that do a selective fellowship, like Fulbright or Watson. In my own experience, most of my friends who graduated with me in the DD program have gone on to pursue graduate studies in music performance or work in a music-related field.

Members of the graduating double degree class of 2018Photo credit: Thanisa Durongkaveroj ‘18, Visual Art and Piano Performance

You should also check out this amazing article written just last year about how double degree grads have fused their major interests.

I hope this was helpful! Got a question I didn’t address? Let me know in the comments.

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