In general, your undergraduate major does not need to be in the same field as what you plan to study in graduate school. It’s not uncommon for academic and career interests to change over time. With many prospective students looking to graduate school as an opportunity to make a career switch, schools are thinking about ways to make transitions more feasible. As you dig into your research and get ready to shift gears, here are a few considerations for pursuing graduate degrees that are unrelated to your undergraduate experience.
If you’re pursuing a master’s degree that is unrelated to your undergraduate major, you may find you need to make up some prerequisite courses or experience. These might include a minimum number of years working in the field, aptitude in a foreign language, or passing a macroeconomics course.
At some graduate schools, students can make up prerequisite courses during the first year in the program. At others, students must have prerequisite courses completed prior to their enrollment either at another institution or sometimes in a summer intensive class provided by the grad school they plan to attend. Schools can be particular about where they accept credits from or how long ago you completed prerequisite requirements so be sure to review their policies carefully to determine your next steps.
Some fields, most commonly medicine, offer post-baccalaureate (often referred to as post-bac) programs specifically to provide students the prerequisites they need before applying to the graduate program of their choice. In some cases, enrolling in and successfully completing a post-bac program may even be a prerequisite for entry into an attached graduate program at that school.
Post-bacs typically take one to two years to complete. Depending on the school, students in a post-bac program are enrolled either full or part-time. In addition to the opportunity to make up prerequisite coursework, some post-bac students also enroll in order to improve their undergraduate GPA and improve their application to medical or graduate school.
Getting experience outside of the classroom
Consider interning, volunteering, or working in the new field that you want to focus on in your graduate education before you apply. Not only will this help build your case for continuing your education in this field, this experience will help you determine if this is the right field for you.
Making your case to the admissions team
If you’re taking a new direction with your graduate work, the admissions team may have questions about your commitment and interest in the field. You’ll want to make connections between your prior studies, your personal/work experience, and your intended course of study as clear as possible. Your essay, resume, and references are all places for you to make these connections. Choose people to write your letters of recommendation who are familiar with your experience in the new field. These could be professors of relevant courses, or supervisors at relevant internships or jobs you have held. Make sure you’re taking into account any volunteer or non-major coursework as well when making your argument about why this new academic field is the right fit for you.
As much as taking on a new field in graduate school can be daunting, it’s also very exciting. We hope these considerations are helpful and informative as you pursue your new direction.