Can You Get a Master’s Degree in a Different Field Than Your Bachelor’s Degree?
The process of selecting your college degree program is one that requires self-awareness and introspection, as you’ll need to weigh your passion alongside your personal and career goals. This doesn’t change when you ascend from an undergraduate to a graduate program, especially when you’re challenged to decide whether or not to align the two degrees.
It’s a complex question, one that cannot easily be answered. It should be considered heavily, and you should consult an academic advisor or a career counselor to help you make an informed decision. Although it will take a lot of thought and consideration, the question is an important one to ask.
“If you are asking yourself this question, I first congratulate you for your courage to (re)evaluate your educational, career, and life goals, which should be viewed positively,” explains Dr. Mingzhen Bao, the associate dean for Ashford University’s College of Liberal Arts. “While it seems natural for some [students] to pursue a matching master’s degree, it’s not uncommon for academic and career interests to shift over time.”
It’s true that our interests evolve, just as fields of study evolve and new industries blossom. For example, if you completed your bachelor’s degree before the Internet age, you may want to go back to school for a master’s degree that can help you meet the demands of today’s tech-savvy workforce. In many cases, that master’s degree won’t match the bachelor’s degree that has supported you throughout your career, but it will complement it while enhancing your skill set to meet the demands of the current trends.
Other times, you may have a desire to learn everything there is about a single subject. In those cases, you may have the same focus and see it through all the way to a doctoral degree, the pinnacle of education and lifelong learning.
Here we examine a few things to consider when considering your graduate degree.
The Benefits of Matching Your Master’s Degree to Your Bachelor’s Degree
Many people who have long-term immersion and educational experience in a particular field would argue that pursuing matching bachelor’s and master’s degrees is done because of your personal passion and not a career choice.
Of course, earning a master’s degree itself opens you up to more opportunities and signals to an employer that you have in-depth understanding and specific knowledge about your area of study. The most obvious benefit of matching degrees is the academic proof that you’ve had more learning experience and exposure to one field.
This is essential for students who hold a strong desire to enroll in a doctoral program later in life.
“They become researchers, scientists, and professors, and their in-depth understanding has an impact on future directions for their disciplines,” Dr. Bao says.
Having a career that is built on your passion can set you up for a lifelong career that feels less like work, more like fun, and sets you up for continued success.
“When you do what you love, you will be great at it, and when you are great at something your career path will naturally unfold for you,” says Dr. Barbara Zorn-Arnold, a faculty member in Ashford’s College of Liberal Arts.
The Benefits of Differing Your Degrees
When it comes to determining a direction for your master’s degree, you should consider the ways in which it will broaden and deepen your approach to problem-solving, Dr. Zorn-Arnold explains.
For example, a student who has degrees in environmental studies and public sociology is uniquely positioned to help address societal impacts stemming from pollution, she says. Or, a student with a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and a master’s degree in public administration can work for an international nonprofit organization and carry out initiatives under different cultural contexts.
Many bachelor’s degree courses will also equip you with universal skills – writing, verbal communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving, among others – that will complement courses in your master’s degree program.
“If you took a leadership role on a class project in a different field, you might have some project management skills,” Dr. Bao says. “These transferable skills make you competitive and marketable to your employer.”
Research is key to the decision-making process, she adds, and a student thinking about pursuing a different path for their master’s degree should know the admissions requirements before applying to any program.
“You may need to make up some prerequisite courses or experience,” she says.
A Flexible Transition from Bachelor’s Degree to Master’s Degree
Aligning your bachelor’s degree and your master’s degree can be especially beneficial – although it is not required – for students in Ashford University’s Smart Track program.
Smart Track gives high-performing students with a GPA of 2.75 or greater the opportunity to earn master’s degree credits while completing their bachelor’s degrees. In the program, students enroll in up to nine applicable credits of graduate-level coursework, thus reducing the amount of time needed to complete a master’s degree, while fulfilling elective requirements for their bachelor’s degrees.
“If you’re pursuing matching degrees, you may find yourself better prepared, content-wise, to complete advanced master’s level courses successfully,” Dr. Bao says of Smart Track. “If you intend to pursue a master’s program that’s different from your bachelor’s degree, not only will this help build your case for continuing your education in a new field, the experience may help you determine whether that field is the right one for you.”
Which Path Should You Take?
When it comes to the question of whether your bachelor’s degree should match your master’s degree, there is no right or wrong answer, and the argument can be made for both cases. In the end, it becomes a personal choice, one that begins with self-reflection and an understanding of your personal mission. Be sure to research in more detail and then speak to an Ashford University advisor about a path from bachelor’s to master’s that will fit your future goals.
Written by Ashford University staff