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Grad School Myth #1: You need a related bachelor’s degree

Photo by HckySo / flickr

This myth held me back for months from believing that I could easily go from being a journalist to becoming a counselor.

Considering that I lacked a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I never thought I’d be qualified to apply to a Master’s in Counseling Psychology program.

I had a B.A. in Communications and only writing and editing experience. I had never worked with people one on one or stepped foot in a psychology statistics course. The only psych knowledge I had was from two freshman-year courses that I had taken 7 years ago. I wasn’t exactly on my way to impressing a master’s application board.

I was sure I’d have to re-do my bachelor’s, this time in psychology. Yet as much as I wanted to work with people, I simply didn’t have the time, money, or desire to get another undergrad degree. I was 25. I didn’t want to start over, I wanted to move forward into a better career fit. Simply: I wanted all of the work I’d done up to this point to count, not have to be erased.

I finally decided to stop assuming and start asking. And, as usual, I discovered my assumptions were wrong.

The truth is, many master’s programs don’t care what subject your bachelor’s degree is in or that you lack a job in the field. In fact, my program directors welcomed my journalism background, explaining that people with diverse life experiences make for better counselors. No two clients are the same, I was told, so therapists shouldn’t all be cookie-cutter versions of one another.

However, even though many master’s programs accept people with unrelated bachelor’s degrees, it wouldn’t be smart to go into graduate-level classes blind. Which is why most grad schools require career changers to take certain prerequisite courses prior to applying.

What are prereqs?

Prereqs are a list of bachelor’s-level courses you must take to ensure you’ve learned the basics before starting in a grad program.

Photo by HckySo / flickr

Photo by HckySo / flickr

Say you’re an English major who wants to change careers to become a Nutritionist. You’ll need an nutrition degree to get hired but feel that it would be a waste to get a second bachelor’s. Instead, you’d rather spend your time and money toward a Master’s in Nutrition so that you can come out with a higher level of qualification and perhaps even make a higher salary. This idea would even make you feel like you aren’t taking a step back!

The only problem? You’ve never even taken Nutrition 101 before.

That’s where prerequisites come in. They’re the list of core courses (ex: Nutrition 101, Chemistry 101) that you must take to get up to speed for the material you’ll learn in the master’s program. On average, you’ll have to take 3-4 classes, which could take you 6 months to 1 year. But that’s better than having to re-do a bachelor’s degree. Prereqs essentially allow you to take the most important undergrad courses for the new field so you can then jump up to a master’s degree.

Each grad school has its own list of prerequisites, which are often found under the program website’s Admissions Requirements or FAQs, and most schools require you to get at least a “B” in the class for it to count.

To be clear, prereqs won’t “count toward” your master’s program or affect your grad school GPA. They’re just the required steps you need to take before you begin grad-level classes.

In another post I’ll talk about the easiest way to take prerequisites.

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50 Comments Post a comment
  1. Leo Lima #

    Thank you so much for shedding some much needed light on this muddled subject, Ainsley.
    Cheers from Vancouver, BC.

    December 23, 2015
  2. vishu #

    hi there i am from India. I completed my bachelors degree in medicine..My parents decided my career that I should become a doctor.. but since childhood i always wanted to become an engineer..Now that i completed my bachelors in medicine, i really dont want to continue.. Do i still have a choice to become an engineer?? I want to do masters in mechanical engineering in United States.. Is that even possible now?? If so, what are the requisites and prerequisites for me to pursue??
    Which Universities provide prerequisites for mechanical engineering in United States??
    And even if i can go to United States and study for the course, can i get VISA approval??
    please kindly help me out with this information

    December 6, 2015
  3. vishu #

    hi there i am from India and i completed my medicine bachelors degree.
    I never wanted to become a doctor in the first place, however i completed it and i thought of continuing anyway for my parents sake.. they wanted me to become a doctor and serve for people..thats really good thing,but since childhood i always wanted to become a mechanical engineer and i never wanted to become doctor..and even after completing my bachelors in medicine i really dont want to continue it.. Its really a long story and i dont want to brag about what happened..My question now is – is it possible for me to do masters in mechanical engineering in united states.. hope there will be some prerequisites to pursue this course.. could you please help me out with this..which colleges in united states offer these courses??
    and even if there are prerequisite courses will i get VISA approval??
    please please help me out with this…

    December 6, 2015
  4. Vinuthna Chinnappa Ramaswamy #

    Hiii…

    This is Vinuthna. I am pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. I would like to do M.A in psychology. Please let me know if it is possible to switch my stream. I would also like to know the pre-requisites for doing M.A in psychology. Do I need to give GRE psychology test for applying. Which universities accept students into psychology department who do not have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology?

    December 1, 2015
  5. aravindh #

    Hi I’m aravindh. I have a degree in B. E. Mechanical engineering. I just feel that i have done the wrong course. Now I want to do musical psychology PhD. So can I apply for Ms in musical psychology directly or should redo a bachelor degree in psychology. If I have to do it, can I do it via online and then will I be able to apply for Ms in musical psychology?.

    November 24, 2015
  6. Bianca #

    What Country/ State does this apply in? Im from Canada and from my understanding, in Canada you need an undergrad in Psychology to pursue a Masters in Psychology. In June 2016 I will be done my undergrad in Law, I changed my career path and no want to pursue Psychology. Would I be able to take the prereqs then apply to a Masters program in Psychology?

    November 13, 2015
  7. natalia #

    If I have a B.A. degree in geography, would it be possible to get a MSc. degree? I learned basic science but i don’t have a B.Sc. so i thought it won’t be possible. is there any web page with info about that, i just didn’t find any, thanks!

    November 13, 2015
  8. Bidhi #

    I am in a similar circumstance. I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree in Business Studies and i really want to masters in sociology.I have had thoughts about doing bachelors again but i don’t have that money. You did say that related bachelors degree is not needed,so does this apply to most of the universities in US or only some?How about the International students?Would you maybe give me any kind of advice or suggestions?Thank you!!

    November 3, 2015
  9. Hi Ainsley, I really enjoyed reading your article and it gave me some insight on what I was looking for. But, I do have a question: Is it possible that someone like myself who is studying/majoring in Sociology (once I finish) could actually get a job in Journalism/Communications? I know that might sound silly, but the thing is I decided to major in Sociology because it seemed slightly easier than some of the other majors I had in mind. But now as I get closer to graduating I do not want a career in Social Work and it’s a little to late to change majors because I’d have to start off fresh. So is having a BA is Sociology something that could “possibly” get me a job in Communications?

    –Marjha

    October 29, 2015
  10. Isla #

    I’m currently in my final year of Bachelor’s Degree in Business Information Systems. I’m planning to continue with Masters study after graduating. But I wonder if I can jump from my degree CIS field to Masters in Archaeology because I am really interested in Archaeology. Is that possible? I would really appreciate your opinions and advice. Thanks in advance !

    October 28, 2015
  11. Jackie #

    Thank you so much, I really needed to see this. I am a 24 year old first year teacher with a bachelors in elementary education. I am feeling stuck, and beginning to realize that the love I have for my students is not enough to keep me in this profession. Recently I have been looking for the best route to getting a masters in nutrition, and reading this has provided me with a shining light in the darkness. Thank you for your words of guidance.

    October 24, 2015
  12. Melissa #

    Hi,

    Thank you for this! It’s really nice to know that I’m not the only person feeling like this! I am 21 just finished my bachelor degree in physics and currently first year in master’s… But honestly hating it right now and I am so scared to leave the program and regretting it. I want to either change to psychology or anything related to films and movies.
    What scares me is that it’s a drastic change, but I don’t want to be stuck for the rest of my life wondering what it would’ve been like if I didn’t try.

    Any advice?

    Thank you,

    Melissa

    October 9, 2015
  13. So happy I came across this post! I am an English major who is about to graduate, but I just realized I want to be a clinical psychologist. This post makes me realize it won’t be “that” bad making this change. Thanks!

    October 2, 2015
  14. Udara Akmeenmana #

    I just graduated yesterday from my degree. Bachelor of engineering (BEng) software engineering. I only got a general pass because i couldn’t complete the final year project properly. I have done the degree part time with full time job. I want to do a master degree in IT. Am i be able to join with a master degree with a general pass for my bachelor degree. If not is there any way of doing it? I need this so badly.

    October 2, 2015
  15. eric #

    Hello,please how can one upgrade his GPA from a bachelor’s degree to be able to get admitted in a master’s program?

    September 1, 2015
  16. This is exactly what i needed. But i would like to kindly ask, is it possible to enter the field of Economics / Business management in graduate school by having an undergraduate degree in International Relations?

    August 24, 2015
    • Fabio, this depends on the program, on what exact courses you took in undergrad, and whether you are willing to take prerequisites. (The program may, for instance, require that you have a certain amount of credits in microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics, calculus, etc. If it so happens that you took those courses in undergrad, then you’re almost there. If you didn’t, you might have to complete them first. Narrow down a few programs you are interested in to see what they require. Also, many MBA (Business) programs do not require you to have a specific undergraduate major.

      August 27, 2015
      • Medet #

        Where can I take these prerequisites? Do I take them while studying at grad school or before going to grad school using online courses and smth like that?

        September 23, 2015
  17. Fajer #

    Wow that’s what I looking for
    I’m a Kuwaiti girl 23 years old have a bachelor degree in educational psychology with a 3.55 GPA and I’m so interested to switch my field to become a nutritionist, but I really don’t know if it acceptable I’m trying to search for universities in the US which can accept me.
    I’d love to hear your advice and your suggestions.

    Best regards

    August 17, 2015
  18. Karolina #

    I have a BA in anthropology but I want to change my career to engineering. I am thinking about civil engineer. I want to go back to school. Can someone give me some advice. I live in NJ.
    Thanks.

    July 21, 2015
  19. Josiah #

    Thank you for this! This is a very wonderful, comforting article. However, I am still a bit skeptical when it comes to my situation. Would it really be possible for me to get my undergrad in English, or even preferably, Creative preferably, and then go on to graduate school to get my Masters in Addictions Counseling? I want to be an addictions counselor for very personal reasons (my dad struggles with this, so I have first hand experience) and for the longest time, didn’t know what I wanted to do but that makes sense to me. But I am currently only a Sophmore and still completing my core credit courses, but really want to major in English or Creative Writing to learn in a structured environment how to be a better writer, which is pretty much my aspiration. Would it just make more sense to major in Psychology instead?

    July 10, 2015
    • Yes, it makes more sense for you to major in psychology. But you could also major in creative writing and take the prerequisite classes on the side. Alternatively, you could major in psychology and minor in creative writing.

      August 10, 2015
      • I wrote Josiah an email with pretty much the same advice. Thanks for your insight!

        August 23, 2015
  20. hi, i am currently majoring in Teaching English as Second Language and will be graduating soon. i’m really interested to pursue master in psychology but have no one to refer to. i know what i want but i’m not sure where to start :( can you help me out?

    May 25, 2015
  21. Charlé #

    Ainsley!

    Thanks so much for this post! It’s good to know that I’m not alone in my pursuit of higher education that is unrelated to my undergrad degree (Bachelor of Fine Arts). I’ve already enrolled in prerequisite courses for Physical Therapy but I’ve been told by the school that I am ineligible for FAFSA loans because I am non-matriculating, that this applies to all schools and that I should seek out private loans to fund it. I know that people in my predicament have received FAFSA funding while taking prereqs before moving on to another school to attain their graduate degree but I’m not sure what their enrollment status is that is allowing them receive these government loans. Do you have any information or resources that could prove useful for me?

    Thanks a bunch

    December 29, 2014
  22. Hey, Ainsley.

    I was inspired by your blog. I’m currently an electrical engineering major and I was curious if it’s possible to take a masters in math after I’m done with my undergrad degree? Just like you I’m actually too far into the program now to redo what work I’ve done so far. I just want to finish already. I think I may have liked to do math more so is there still hope for me? How do I go about applying for masters in a different program? :)

    October 18, 2014
  23. Reblogged this on JCU // Creative Writing Workshop and commented:
    In this series of articles, Ainsley Di Duca, M.A., who is a counselor, writer and editor, breaks the myths about applying to grad school. Are you getting your bachelors degree in anthropology, but really want to go on to study creative writing? Well, this is definitely the post for you. The first post of the series examines whether or not you need to have a related bachelors degree to pursue the masters of your dreams. Also, check out her section on graduate schools that don’t require the GRE (No GRE Required)!

    October 8, 2014
  24. Akash #

    Plz state the names of institutions offering such courses

    September 20, 2014
  25. Henry #

    Hi, I do like a article/post that gives hope which is exactly what this is. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Law from 2010 and my plan is to do a masters in a Danish University. I want to study English as 1st option, corporate communication as 2nd option and linguistics as 3rd option but I am unsure if they would accept me since my degree is totally unrelated. Do you see any relation in the degree I have with the masters I want to study?

    Thanks

    September 13, 2014
  26. Soso #

    This makes for an interesting read. I have been feeling same too. My first degree is in Linguistics and I did my masters in sociology in nigeria. However I feel a need to study human development related courses such as child and youth studies, family studies or the like and such options are available in the US. I have been searching for such courses, but the requirements such as GRE or GMAT makes it rather difficult or time consuming. I would appreciate your assistance in this regards. I already have a higher degree, but most schools I have checked do not have a waiver option inspire of that. My GPA was 3.73 and 3.75 respectively for B.A and M.SC degrees I have. Waiting to hear from you.

    September 9, 2014
  27. Kristen #

    Hello,
    Your post has been incredibly helpful to me. I am currently a nursing major and I am dying to study microbiology. However my school doesn’t offer it and I have invested so much time and money into my current major. So I have very recently started thinking about finishing nursing school and then applying to another school for my masters in micro. However it seemed impossible because I also believed that I would need a bachelor’s in the same area. I have just started to do some research and I have many questions but your post has helped me realize that I may actually be able to follow my dreams. Thank you!

    August 6, 2014
  28. jen j #

    I’m 24 years old, work as an auditor in the IT field and it’s a good job, but I always wanted to help people. I love to hear people’s problems and I would love to be a psychologist and maybe start my own practice. Does this sound reasonable? How would I go about doing that?

    July 2, 2014
  29. Hey, I’m really so excited about this post. I’m a nigerian presently runnin an msc in Accounting(mostly out of compulsion from my parents) in Nigeria too, buh for a while now I’v felt I made a wrong career choice. I’v always had psychology on my mind and I now wnt to switch to that field, buh I have no bckground knwledge in that area. My 1st degree was in accounting too (my choice, I finished with a 3.48 CGP), i intended switching after undergrad buh wen no job and d admission to do msc in acct came up I headed in dat direction. Now I feel so unFulfilled, I lack the passion and motivation in that field And I’ll love to switch.please hope its not too late for me and is a switch really feasible for me?? I rily love wrking wit people (I wrk presently with kids and teens), I’m almost done with the msc acct. please how do I access these prerequisite courses without having to write GRE,,GMAT,IELTS and TOEFL??I’m hoping to begin by nxt year,please is there anyone you can connect me to who will assisst me in the process (assuming the switch is feasible)?? Congrats on the completion of your M.A in CCP!! N.B:: please this is rily in important to me, Thanks for your time.

    June 18, 2014
    • Hi there. are you trying to complete a psychology degree in Nigeria or in the U.S.? Do you want a master’s in counseling (2-3 years) or a PhD/PsyD in psychology (5 years)? The answers to your questions all depend on where you want to get your degree, since each program requires different prerequisites.

      In the most general sense, your career change will most likely be possible if you want to get a master’s in counseling. In most cases, they only require 3-4 courses as prerequisites — most often it would be Psychology 101, Abnormal Psych, Developmental Psych, and Statistics. Those are the common ones — but check with the program you are looking into!!

      Start by finding the right program (you can use my no GRE list to narrow down to only programs that do not require the GRE!)

      I am not sure what state or country you are looking. Counseling degrees vary even by state within the U.S. since licensing laws are different in every state!

      You can email me if you’d like to talk more about this. ainsley.diduca[@]gmail.com.

      June 24, 2014
  30. This is a really good read. But I have a little query of my own. I’m in my senior year of material science engineering and I’ve been wanting to switch to psychology for my masters program. But so far I haven’t been getting a clear solution as to if I’ll be able to make this huge switch. I know it’s a totally different career move but that’s what I’ve been wanting to do. Could you please guide me through as to whether it would be possible to make such a transition or not.

    April 27, 2014
    • Hi Harshil,

      I apologize for the very long delay. I am assuming you have found out some information on this already, but if not … Are you interested in becoming a counselor? If so – in the U.S.? In what state? Counseling laws and thus programs vary from state to state, so that’s why I’m asking.

      If you are looking into a Master’s in Counseling degree, they usually require 3-4 courses as prerequisites including Psychology 101, Abnormal Psych, Developmental Psych, and Statistics.

      In the most general answer to your question: It’s not a “huge switch” as much as you may think. Counseling programs are pretty welcoming to people with unrelated degrees.

      For master’s in counseling degrees, getting licensed is very important — but licensing laws vary from state to state.. So I’d suggest going to a program that’s close to where you live/work (in the state you currently live/work) assuming you want to stay there.

      When it comes to counseling degrees, honestly – just start with the programs located very close to where you live/work … There are no national rankings for master’s in counseling programs, but that’s fine because it isn’t smart to go to a program out of state, then come back home and try to get licensed there. Just go to a nearby program that has a good reputation in your area. You also want to stay close because the internship you get will be important, and you want to make your connections and get experience locally. Finally, most master’s in counseling programs do not fund their students, so you’ll be going part-time and working part-time (or even full-time), thus making it logistically necessary to go to a program close to where you work/live.

      Once you narrow down your list to 1-3 local programs, find out what prerequisite courses they require (some may also require the GRE, etc.). Then speak directly to the program director or an adviser who can tell you what their program specifically is looking for.

      People will also advise that you get some small form of experience in the counseling world (this will also help you in writing your personal statement, to show that you are actually serious about this field). Ex: You may want to volunteer at an abuse/suicide hotline clinic on weekends, or get a job as a TSS worker (Therapeutic Support Staff) — it pays low, and offers no benefits — but if you are, say, living at home and can do this, many people start here.

      Any other questions feel free to email me: ainsley.diduca[@]gmail.com

      June 24, 2014
  31. Nicole #

    I am a sophomore working to get a BS in Biology but want to change to Sports Management should I switch majors now or continue on this path, then work for a Masters in Sports Management by taking some perquisite classes. Can that be feasible?

    January 21, 2014
    • If it’s relatively painless for you to switch now, I’d say do it. The thing about prerequisite courses is that often, you cannot get FAFSA loans unless you are enrolled full-time as a student, so people try to take one or two prerequisites later and find out they cannot afford them. Plus, you’ll have an adviser to help you with credits and a Career Center to guide you through the application process to the master’s degree. It’s just a pain to figure this all out on your own once you’ve graduated, take my word for it! ;)

      January 22, 2014
  32. Sue #

    A helpful post! I am in the same circumstances. I have a communication bachelor degree but want to pursue an Accounting master degree. They ask for several prerequisites course which I don’t have. And the classes can’t not been taken in community college or online. They have to be credit class from four-year university. Any way to help this out? Thanks.

    January 21, 2014
    • Sue, no problem. You will just have to apply to a 4-year university as a “non-matriculated” student, which means you are taking credit courses at the university but are not working toward a degree.

      I suggest Googling the university you are interested in with the word non-matriculated, such as “Temple University, non-matriculated” to be led directly to that school’s criteria and application instructions.

      Does this help?

      January 22, 2014
  33. Angie #

    This is what i’m going through right now! My undergrad degree is in Hospitality Management but I would really love to get into Marriage & Family Therapy. I’ve been hesitant because i’ve seen a lot of programs asking for “3.0+ GPA in Psychology and/or Sociology courses” and I took one lower division Psychology class in my General Education years. Are admissions boards just looking to see if students can finish a program rather than field specific education?

    December 4, 2013
    • Hi Angie,

      You can definitely still get into a Marriage and Family Therapy program. It does not matter what your undergraduate degree was in. However, you will have to identify which program(s) you’re interested in, and look at their list of prerequisite courses. (Usually you will have to take Psychopathology/Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Statistics, and so on.) You may have to complete 3-4 undergraduate courses before being accepted to a master’s program. Of course, if you can get a job in the field, for instance as a TSS worker for example, that would also help you show that you are involved in the field and in helping people.

      You will have to complete the prerequisites and get a 3.0+ in each of them prior to starting the master’s program. Depending on the program, you can complete the prerequisites 1) at a community college 2) online undergraduate courses – I completed mine at North Dakota University – they have a great online system http://distance.und.edu/ … or 3) CLEP (https://clep.collegeboard.org/) in which you study a book on the subject, take a standardized test, pass, and get credit for completing that prerequisite. That is the cheapest ($30) way vs. spending $900-1,000 on a full undergraduate course and going to classes.

      *If you do CLEP, you will have to make sure the school you’re applying to accepts CLEP credits. You can do that here, https://clep.collegeboard.org/ then “Search Institutions” to the right.

      Any other questions, just ask!

      December 5, 2013
  34. Lina #

    Wow this is exactly what I’m going through, I majored in Communications, but I’ve always had a lot of interest both in Psychology and Visual Arts (sometimes I think I’d have enjoyed writing a lot more if I had mixed them altogether in a double bachelor program)

    Have you seen something in the Arts area that offers bachelor’s-level courses? Thank you for the relief offered!!!

    November 5, 2013
    • Lina,

      I’m glad you can relate! Can you please be a bit more specific. There are many Arts-related bachelor’s degrees. What exactly are you looking for?

      November 15, 2013
  35. Amanda #

    THANK YOU!! This is exactly what I needed! I am in almost the exact same circumstances. Majored in communications, only PR is my concentration and feeling a pull to do something more, and move forward, but thinking I couldn’t do it. So really thank you for the day you put this on the internet! Would love an update!

    September 17, 2013
    • Amanda,

      Thank you for writing! What are you considering doing next? I just finished my M.A. in Clinical Counseling Psychology and it was definitely worth it. I truly feel like I found the path that is a better fit for me. (Clearly I still love writing but now I can blend the two – helping people through my writing and by talking to them one on one.)

      I’d love to hear about what path you’re considering or any other questions you have, and I can do my best to answer them. :)

      September 19, 2013
      • catherine #

        dear ainsley,

        first time i checked your site, earlier this week, it had a big list of programs i could choose from, subsequently, however i cant see such a list anymore. i wish you could direct me to it again as it gave me an opportunity to consider many programs. However outside that list, my interest is in Health Education. I’d like to be able to educate people on chosen issues or diseases, like asthma, diabetes etc. However my training and experience had been in accounting and business. quite a departure, yes, but thats where i am at. I’D appreciate your help about what schools will allow a non-related 1st degree into their programme, also one that will not need me to do GRE. Thank u so much. i may already have been on track since 2 years ago, if i’d known your site. You are doing a great job.

        catherine

        December 6, 2014

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