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Can I Switch Fields and Go to Graduate School in a Different Area?


Businessman at fork of stone pathway in water
Thomas Barwick/ Stone/ Getty Images

So your bachelor's degree is in one field and you want to go graduate school in another. Universities require that all students choose majors - primary fields of study - early in their academic career. Many students choose majors that interest them, but as seniors (or even after graduation) realize that their heart lies in another field. Is it possible for a student pursue an undergraduate degree in one field and then a graduate degree in another? Are you limited by your college major?

College Major vs. Graduate Discipline
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 chosen field. 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?

Many students obtain undergraduate degrees in liberal arts fields, such as English, history, or psychology. Liberal arts degrees offer broad preparation for a variety of fields because students usually are required to take courses in multiple fields. Liberal arts degrees tend to emphasize developing reasoning skills and fostering broad skills in analysis and problem solving. Applicants with undergraduate degrees in liberal arts fields can emphasize these skills as preparation for graduate study.

Demonstrate Your Fit
Your task is to show how your education and experiences specifically match 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. Others, such as some of the sciences, require more specific skills. Seek experiences to improve your fit with your chosen graduate program. If your BA 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. If you plan to apply to graduate schools in applied fields, like counseling, see applied experiences through volunteer or paid work.

Show Your Fit in Your Admissions Essays
Your graduate school admissions essays are you opportunity to speak to the graduate committee. 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 this step -- this transition from one field to another -- why you have the background to do so and will be a good graduate student, as well as your ultimate career goals. Ultimately graduate school admissions committees want to see evidence of your interest, knowledge, and competence. Do you have the ability to fulfill degree requirements? Are you 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


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