Can You Go to Grad School for a Different Major Than Undergrad?

Changing Direction After Your Undergrad Years

Can you switch fields of study?
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If you graduated with a bachelor's degree in a field different than the one you want to study in the future, or if it's related but still different, you may wonder if you can go to grad school for a different major. Of course you can!

This isn't uncommon because most college students choose majors during the first two years of school and it's not uncommon for your interests to change as you progress through college. Many students that find their career interests lie in a different field than their major. Or they want to pursue a related field.

Does your college major determine your grad school options?

No, your graduate options are not limited by your college major, but you will have to work hard to demonstrate that you're a good candidate for graduate programs in your newly chosen field it differs greatly from previous studies. Admittance to graduate school is all about match: How well do you match the program? In other words, do your interests, preparation, and career goals match the graduate program's orientation? Do you have the experiences and competencies to succeed? How do you show your fit?

Emphasize Your Liberal Arts Skills

Many students obtain undergraduate degrees in liberal arts fields, such as English, history or psychology. All students must take some of these courses to fulfill general education requirements. Liberal arts courses and degrees offer broad preparation for a variety of fields because students usually are required to take courses in multiple fields. Applicants with undergraduate degrees in liberal arts fields can emphasize these skills as preparation for graduate study.

Seek Related Experience

Most graduate programs in biology will not accept a student without undergraduate science coursework. This is true of all other areas of graduate study. Seek the basic experiences that you need to demonstrate interest and competence. If your bachelor's degree is in psychology, for example, and you wish to apply to a master's program in biology, take some science courses to demonstrate that you have a basic science background as well as the capacity to succeed in science.

Take the Subject GRE

Many graduate programs do not require applicants to take the GRE in their subject field. If you're switching fields of study, it's in your best interest to take the Subject GRE. Why? It illustrates your understanding and competence in the subject matter, which can help to show that you're a good fit to the field.

Use Your Admissions Essay to Demonstrate Your Fit

Your graduate school admissions essay is your opportunity to speak to the graduate committee. Your task in preparing your application is to show how your education and experiences specifically align with the graduate program. If, for example, your undergraduate degree is in political science but you seek to attend graduate school in history, you must draw links between the two fields and illustrate how the competencies that you developed as a undergraduate history major prepare you for graduate study in history. Some fields, like law, relate to many courses of study.

Discuss your interest in the field and how your experiences have prepared you to succeed in the field. Draw attention to courses you've taken or experiences that illustrate your interest or competence in the area to which you aspire. For example, as a psychology major who wishes to study biology, emphasize the aspects of your education that overlap with biology, such as the emphasis on understanding the brain as an influence on behavior, courses in methodology and statistics, and research experience.

Explain why you're making a transition from one field to another, why you have the background to do so, why you'll be a good graduate student, as well as your career goals. Ultimately graduate school admissions committees want to see evidence of your interest, knowledge, and competence. They want to know if you have the ability to fulfill degree requirements and if you're a good risk.  Keep the admissions committee's perspective in mind and you'll have an advantage in the admissions process despite having the "wrong" undergraduate major.