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Degree of separation

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RARE CLASS: Romney is one of only 500 graduates who have completed the programme

Mitt Romney's rarified law-and-business double degree from Harvard has put him into one of the most exclusive clubs in academe.

President Obama has a Harvard law degree. Former president George W Bush has a Harvard MBA. Will the next president have both? One of the most exclusive clubs in academe is a Harvard University dual-degree programme allowing graduate students to attend its law and business schools simultaneously, cramming five years of education into four. On average, about 12 people per year have completed the programme - the overachievers of the overachievers - including a striking number of big names in finance, industry, law and government.

The programme is so small that it has drawn little attention outside rarefied circles, but that may change as its most famous graduate, Mitt Romney, campaigns for the White House, subjecting every phase of his life to scrutiny.

When Harvard started its so-called JD-MBA programme in 1969, there were just a handful like it. Others have cropped up since, but Harvard's has what may be the most successful alumni roster, particularly in finance.

In addition to Romney, founder of Bain Capital, the roughly 500 graduates include Bruce Wasserstein, who led the investment bank Lazard until he died in 2009;leaders of multibillion-dollar hedge fund and private equity firms like Canyon Capital Advisors, Silver Lake Partners and Crestview Partners;highranking executives at banks like Citigroup and Credit Suisse;and Theodore V Wells Jr, one of the nation's top trial lawyers.

"What was special about these people was that they had bandwidth, " said Malcolm S Salter, an emeritus business professor who helped create the programme. "They had to be driven, hard-working and organised to a degree that was unusual even for Harvard business or law grad students. "

Guhan Subramanian, who graduated from the programme in 1998 and now is its faculty chairman, said the students could be viewed as "rêsumê builders who haven't figured out what to do with their lives and are just checking off all the boxes. " But he said they are genuinely interested in mastering both fields.

Students start by taking the first year of one programme, and then the first year of the other. In their third and fourth years, they take courses from both. Those who start with the first year of law school - often regarded as the hardest - as romney did are more likely to complete both degrees.

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