Get the most out of your education: Dual-degrees and Degree Transfers

by Amy Scheuerman

Transitioning to grad school can be overwhelming.  There are so many decisions to be made and sometimes it feels like there just isn’t enough information to make them all.  What is the difference between the Agriculture Food and Environment (AFE) Program and the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition Program (FPAN)?  Will getting a Masters in Public Health (MPH) make it easier to get a job after graduation?  What are the advantages to becoming a Registered Dietitian (RD)?  And what if, God forbid, you make the wrong decision and discover a year into your Friedman career that you don’t want to be a Nutrition Communication (Nut Comm) student—that a different program is really the right one for you?

This article is meant to assuage some of those fears by giving you a little information on the dual degree programs offered at Friedman in collaboration with other schools as well as information about how and why students choose to switch programs.

The MS/MPH

Doing a dual degree with a Friedman masters program and an MPH from the School of Medicine is fairly common, each year between 10 and 15 students choose the option.  Most MS/MPH students come from the Nutritional Epidemiology (Epi), AFE, or FPAN programs and they choose to take on the second degree either because they hope to go into public health after graduation or because they hope to bring a strong background in public health to their career in nutrition science or policy.

Because so many students do choose to take the dual degree with MPH the system for applying and for scheduling your courses is almost automated.  However, this is not to say that admission to the MPH program is guaranteed when you get accepted to Friedman.  “I remember applying to each program separately,” recalls Angel Park, a 2nd year AFE/MPH student.  “The staff do try to help in the process and will share GRE scores and transcripts so they don’t need to be sent twice. “

Taking on the MPH in addition to the MS program is a big decision.  It takes a minimum of five semesters to complete both programs; three of these semesters are spent enrolled at Friedman and two are spent enrolled at the more expensive School of Medicine.  Depending on scholarships (Friedman offers them, the School of Medicine does not) the two semesters spent at the School of Medicine can be almost double the cost of the three spent at Friedman.  Students completing the MPH degree program also have to do a second internship, known as an Applied Learning Experience or ALE.

However, if you want to go into public health or public policy the MPH can be incredibly helpful.  Park felt that the degree would give her the skills to apply what she had learned at Friedman and has been satisfied with her decision to do the dual degree.  “I am very happy with doing the dual degree. I feel like the exposure I’ve had from participating in two programs has been invaluable.”

The MS/RD

While any Friedman student can choose to complete RD training while getting their MS, this option is most frequently chosen by Nut Comm and Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition (BMN) Students.  Getting an RD in addition to an MS can open many doors and lead to interesting employment opportunities.  Alumni who have achieved both have gone on to very successful careers.

On the up side, the prerequisites for both the Nut Comm and BMN programs overlap with the prereqs for the RD didactic program, so you won’t have to worry about needing more classes before you even start.  Also on the up side is the fact that Simmons College has made a deal with Tufts to allow students to take the five required courses at a 50% tuition discount.

On the down side, taking the five courses will require students to either take five or six classes each semester or to take on another semester of school (with all the extra tuition that decision implies).

Dr. Jeanne Goldberg, PhD RD, head of the Nut Comm program at Friedman, highly recommends that students who want to get both the MS and the RD take the extra semester.  While it may cost more, the extra time also allows students more freedom to take all the electives they want without worrying about scheduling conflicts that might otherwise be an issue.  “You’re only in school for a limited time and you don’t want to regret missing a course that could have helped you or been very interesting,” Dr. Goldberg cautions.

Getting your RD certification requires more than just coursework, hopefuls also have to complete a nine-month (generally unpaid) dietetic internship.  Internships are competitive and currently the number of interns exceeds the number of positions.  While national match rates for dietetic internships are currently at just 50%, an MS in nutrition helps Friedman students improve their odds.

The Dual Nutrition and Urban and Environmental Planning MS

While growing in popularity, getting a dual degree from the Urban and Environmental Planning (UEP) department is definitely the road less travelled.  Currently there are only two students, both AFE, who are working towards both degrees.  Fortunately, though, these trail blazers are helping to make it easier for future students.

Similar to the MS/MPH process, applying to do the UEP dual degree is simple.  “Since I was already in the Friedman school I asked Matt Hast to forward all of the application materials over to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,” said Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, 2nd year AFE/UEP student.  “I didn’t have to pay the application fee again, track down old college transcripts again, nor ask the professors who wrote my recommendations to write new letters.  The only thing that I had to revise was my personal statement.”

Unlike the MS/MPH program, students who choose to get an MS from both Friedman and UEP will add on an entire extra year of school as well as a second internship.  Quinonez warns that it’s important to consider both the extra tuition and time when deciding whether the dual degree program is right.  “I made my decision because the dual degree was the best way for me to merge all of my interests into one educational experience,” says Quinonez, who was drawn to planning long before she came to Friedman.  “This may be the case for many, but others should think about how important the extra degree is in comparison to the extra debt and time it requires.  It’s definitely going to be hard to watch from the sidelines as all my Friedman friends don their graduation caps this May!”

Changing Programs

At Friedman you not only have to choose between whether to get the standard MS or an MS alongside another degree, but also which of the many intriguing MS Nutrition programs is right for you.  With six options to pick from, it’s not surprising that some students waver between two programs and eventually decide that they want to be part of a different program than the one they originally picked.

It’s easier to change from and to certain programs than it is from others.  For example, many students have a hard time deciding between AFE and FPAN, but fortunately the course requirements and prerequisites for these programs are so similar that as long as you make the decision in your first year it’s not to hard to switch.  Students who wait until their second year and still aren’t sure might have a harder time getting in all the required classes.

But for some students the full switch ends up making more sense.  This is how it was for Vivian Cheng, 2nd year AFE student.  “When applying to Friedman, I actually changed my mind between FPAN and AFE a few times.  I finally decided to switch programs because I felt that the FPAN program was very focused on international work, which I’m not interested in.”  Fortunately Cheng switched early on in her Friedman career, which made the transition easier.

But although Cheng decided to switch she doesn’t think that it makes sense for every student who has dueling interests, “If you decide not to switch, it’s not a big deal, you can always reach out to students and faculty in the other program and learn about opportunities in that way.”

AFE and FPAN have some overlapping core requirements and both involve a three course concentration.  This means that sometimes you can get the benefits of the other program without going through the hassle of changing over.  Ashley Colpaart, 2nd year FPAN, chose to take advantage of this and did her concentration in agriculture rather than switch.  She’s become so embedded in the AFE cohort that many students don’t realize that she’s actually in a different degree program.

Other programs, such as Nut Comm or Epi, have so many prerequisites that it can be almost impossible to switch into them without spending time and money on classes elsewhere.  Switching away from these programs can also be hard because the class requirements for graduation are very different from those of the other programs that students might switch to.  Students who decide to switch from Nut Comm to FPAN, for example, may have to take more than four classes each semester or even extend their enrollment at Friedman if they wait more than a semester to make their decision.

Professor Goldberg of the Nutrition Communication program emphasizes that switching programs is not a decision to take lightly.  “If a student is really interested in switching to a different program they should look into all the requirements and then discuss the decision with a professor from both their current program and the one they are considering.”

You can learn more about the process of switching programs by reading the Friedman Policies and Procedures Manual (http://www.nutrition.tufts.edu/1172048107859/Nutrition-Page-nl2w_1177941614802.html)

With thoughtfulness and planning students can get a lot out of their Friedman career no matter what programs they end up deciding on.

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