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How Do You Change Your Master’s Degree Program? Should You?

Nathan Wilgeroth / Abound: Grad School »

We all know that changing one’s major in undergrad is so common that it’s almost a given. And with undergraduate core curricula being almost universal across all of a school’s programs, the process can be pretty painless. But what if you realize that you might have chosen the wrong subject to study while in graduate school? 

It happens! Maybe the discipline you chose turned out to be different in practice than you expected in theory. Maybe you discovered something new that seems far more interesting than what you’re studying now. Regardless of what your situation is, know that there are a couple of different ways in which you can navigate this transitional period. 

1. Learn What’s Possible. 

Before mapping out your plan to pursue a new master’s degree, you’ll first have to make sure that making the switch is even possible. So, is it doable?

In most cases, the answer is yes—as long as you work with an advisor. Whether you’re planning to stay at your current school or transfer to another, you should meet one-on-one with a staff member who is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of transfer credit and degree completion. Consult your graduate admissions representative or program director to determine the necessary admissions requirements, and figure out how many of the credits you’ve already completed can apply to your new desired field of study. They will also let you know of the process you’ll need to complete to reapply and make the official switch to a different track.

Keep in mind that you’re less likely to have transferable credits from one degree to another if you’re making drastic changes to your discipline. Graduate degree requirements are often much more specialized and independent of other fields of study, so you probably won’t have general core curriculum credits that can fit into any degree. 

Kaitlynn Beaird, Graduate Admissions Officer at Arkansas Tech University, points out that while changing your degree is often possible, it might not be as immediately available as you’d like it to be. Maybe you have to wait a semester or two before starting up your new path. Consider how this change may bump back some of your post-graduation plans by a couple of years.

2. Explore Alternatives. 

In the event that making a quick switch to a new master’s program isn’t possible, you have a few different options to continue earning a good education without abandoning your new field of interest. Ask yourself whether you would be able to finish the degree you’re already working on. After all, those who hold a master’s degree, regardless of the discipline it’s in, have higher earnings than those with a bachelor’s degree. There are a number of reasons to have a master’s degree at all—is it worthwhile to you to stick it out and finish the track you’re on?

One option that might be available is to finish your current degree and supplement your credentials with a postgraduate certificate program. Certificates are smaller programs that showcase your knowledge in a specified area of focus. This could give you the knowledge you may have been craving with a degree change without jumping through the hoops of making the formal switch. 

Beaird also asks whether you might be pursuing a Ph.D. or other terminal degree in this new field. Perhaps you can wait until this more advanced degree program to make the switch.

3. Know Your Options. 

“Do your research,” says Beaird. “Do you absolutely need a graduate degree that is specific to the field you’re trying to go into?” Look up leaders in your field of interest and see what kind of education they have. Chances are there is quite a bit of variability among the biggest names in your discipline. The data show that having a master’s degree at all is beneficial, but that doesn’t mean that any one degree will always be the only available choice for you. 

In the meantime, consider branching out to educational options that are more relevant to your new desired discipline. Keep an eye out for electives, internship opportunities, etc. that count toward your degree while also touching on other subjects that interest you.

4. Consider the Costs. 

Rerouting your degree path can be quite costly in terms of both time and money. Beaird encourages students to “speak with the program director for your new program so they can review your transcript.” Emphasize the importance of finding ways to transfer whatever credits can be applied to your new degree. Every bit counts toward keeping costs low and saving you time.

No matter how many credits transfer, there’s no avoiding the fact that a brand-new degree program will probably incur some major new fees. “Will you have to take out a student loan or additional student loans to cover these costs?” Beaird requests that students consider their current outstanding loans and how much they would be willing to add on. In the end, it’s your money, so it’s up to you to know what is and isn’t reasonable. 

5. Weigh the Benefits. 

Ultimately, your decision to persist in your current degree or switch to a new program is deeply personal. You will have to consider the extra costs, the extra time it will take to get a master’s, and the potential of having earned credits that won’t be able to count toward your new degree. But that doesn’t mean the switch isn’t worth it! A master’s degree is important, but so is your quality of life. If you’ve found that your current degree program isn’t fulfilling enough to see it through, going through the process of transferring might be the best option. 

However hesitant you might be about changing the track of your graduate school education, you will always get the most clarity and the best guidance from an advisor and graduate admissions officers. Visit yours to learn about the steps you might need to take. Remember, you don’t have to commit to anything just yet, so it never hurts to gather information. Know your options so that you can achieve your goals in a way that is not only efficient, but truly fulfilling.

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