A New Wrinkle in the JD-MBA Decision

Law School Admissions
We talk to a lot of JD-MBA applicants … or at least a lot of graduate school candidates thinking about those two degrees. Ultimately, most of the clients we work with wind up choosing one or the other, after we put them through a thorough analysis of all the pros and cons of the joint degree path. You can read about many of these considerations in this space, including:
finances, opportunity, short-term career goals, and long-term career goals.

For many, once they go through all of the various pluses and minuses, they wind up deciding to stick with one program. However, there is another, more strategic, reason that many of our clients wind up going with either the MBA or the JD, rather than both: applying to both schools can hurt your chances of gaining admissions at either program.

This is a wrinkle that most people don’t consider in the JD-MBA analysis, but is something that is worth thinking long and hard about. Positioning yourself as a JD-MBA applicant has consequences on how your application will be reviewed and how a decision will be rendered, at virtually every program.

Let’s start with Northwestern, which is the standard bearer in the JD-MBA space. Part of the reason Northwestern is so advanced relative to other dual degree programs is that they committed an entire process to reviewing JD-MBA candidates, complete with a coordinator assigned to this pool of applicants. The application and interview process hew closely to those of Kellogg, but they also incorporate Northwestern Law School. In other words, by applying JD-MBA instead of just to Kellogg, you are automatically bringing another opinion to the table. If you are a younger applicant with a monster LSAT score and can get the law school in your corner, then maybe you stand a better chance than if you had just applied to Kellogg. However, if you are a strong “traditional” MBA applicant with a high GMAT score, great work experience, and so forth, you might be introducing added risk by having someone from the law school weigh in. This is also true at Duke (three-year program with a dual application) and NYU (four-year program with a dual application).

For all the other schools – even Wharton and Yale, which offer three-year programs – students are required to apply “separately but concurrently.” This is where it starts to get really tricky and before we explain why it can be costly to apply to both the business school AND the law school at an elite university, we have to discuss a concept called “yield protection.”

Yield protection is basically the school’s attempt to secure a certain percentage of admitted students as enrolled students (its “yield”) by managing that consideration throughout the admissions process. For most candidates, an admissions officer will consider whether the student might enroll as part of a decision, because it helps them protect their yield rate (which is crucial for many reasons, most notably how it impacts the rankings). Often, if the officer sees a red flag on potential yield, he or she will pass on an otherwise qualified candidate.

One such red flag goes like this: “Candidate X wants to get a JD-MBA and we’re not sure the law school will admit him.” Even worse: “Candidate X wants to get a JD-MBA and we KNOW that the law school won’t admit him.” Now you have a business school that wants to admit you, but won’t, because the admissions committee either thinks or knows the corresponding law school will not. What is the likely result of this scenario? You will not be admitted to either program. Because the business school (in this scenario – it all works in reverse as well, of course) is afraid you won’t attend (because you won’t have the opportunity to pursue both degrees), they will pass in favor of someone else.

In other words, reaching for the additional degree can hurt your chances at the program you most desire. Nearly every candidate considering a JD-MBA has a “lead horse” in that race and the question I always ask is to consider whether the reward of getting into both programs is worth the risk of potentially being denied at your preferred program.

To be sure, this is another wrinkle in an already complicated decision-making process. We encourage all prospective JD-MBA students to really study the considerations at play and to make decisions with not just the ideal outcome, but the most realistic outcome in mind. More to the point, if you are wrestling with the JD-MBA, we encourage you to give us a call at (800) 925-7737, and we’ll help you sort some of this out.