My Undergraduate Degree is Not in the Same Field as What I Want to Get My Master's in. Will I Be Able to Get into a Program?

Deciding to get a master’s degree is a difficult decision for most would-be graduate students. The process may be even more difficult for someone who studied one subject in their undergraduate days, but who want to study something else in graduate school. For those who lean toward subjects like computer science, this question may hold even more weight still.

This type of master’s degree requires that applicants possess a specific knowledge and skill base to succeed in the required coursework. Usually those who pursue this master’s degree get that knowledge base from their undergraduate degree. However, it may be possible for those who don’t have a bachelor’s degree in computer science to still get into a master-level program in the subject. Here’s what they need to know.

Depends on the Program

A would-be computer science graduate student will likely encounter this issue quite a bit. Truth be told, there are some graduate-level computer science programs, like the Georgia Tech College of Computing, that do require a person to have studied computer science at the undergraduate level.

However, there are other universities, like the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, that only require potential computer science graduate students to take some foundational classes in computer science at the undergraduate level. If these potential applicants have taken those prerequisite classes (or something equivalent), then provided that they meet the other admission requirements for the program, then they have as good a chance as any applicant to get into a graduate program of their choice (in theory, anyway).

It’s also important to note that applying to most master-level programs have other requirements that have nothing to do with computer science, but that are required for admission, nonetheless. Most graduate programs in computer science will require program applicants to take the GRE test. This test lets graduate school admissions officers know if a potential student is ready for master-level work. The test covers subjects, like math, data analysis and vocabulary.

An Argument for Liberal Education

To understand why potential computer science master’s students may not find it necessary to major in computer science at the undergraduate level, they first need to understand the philosophy behind a liberal education. The study of subjects like theater, foreign languages, anthropology and philosophy helps students to develop the soft skills that modern employers look for in job candidates. These skills include problem-solving, communication and analytical skills.

Computer science education, even one that emphasizes the liberal arts, does more than just teach students computer languages. It teaches these students about the rules of society and makes them grapple with some of the ethical considerations that go with the study of this subject. For example, one of the big ethical issues facing computer scientists and software companies today is that of ownership according to InfoWorld. In other words, who owns a particular piece of intellectual property and how is that ownership determined?

A computer scientist with an educational background in history, philosophy and other related subjects has been put into the position to ask if there were times in the past when such an issue arose. For example, what kind of issues did the printing press create? While these students may not find a complete parallel, their liberal education will give them a pretty good idea about how people have reacted when changes in technology fundamentally changed society.

It should be noted that a solid foundation in the liberal arts should also help a student prepare for graduate school admission tests, like the GRE or the LSAT (law school aptitude test). While would-be graduate students usually find that they must study hard to pass these tests, it would be nearly impossible to pass these tests without having a foundation in the subjects. A liberal education gives the master’s degree applicant the foundation in these subjects.

Coursework to Take

Undergraduate students who do opt to study something other than computer science at the undergraduate level will still need to take some foundational coursework to prepare for graduate-level study in computer science. These classes include:

  • UNIX programming
  • C programming
  • Software engineering
  • Advanced mathematics
  • Computer science principles
  • Data structure
  • Algorithms
  • Foundations in programming language

These future graduate students may also want to study subjects, like design, cyber security and human-computer interaction.

When It Makes Sense to Go This Route

While many future computer scientists have their sights set on jobs in the tech industry, others have more creative endeavors in mind. These computer scientists are more interested in going into industries, like animation or filmmaking. They’ll use their computer science education to create the animated graphics or special effects that are used in movies, TV shows, video animation and mobile apps. As such, they’ll be asked to create whole new worlds for the show’s or game’s characters to exist in.

That being the case, an undergraduate major in subjects like art history, theater, studio art, filmmaking or literature may be particularly helpful. These kinds of subjects help aspiring animation artist develop a visual vocabulary or a sense of story structure. The coursework they take in computer science will give them the technical tools they need to bring their stories to life. The coursework they take in the liberal arts gives them the ability to tell stories and to create visually arresting worlds for their characters.

Many people who want to earn an advanced degree in computer science don’t always have a bachelor’s degree in the subject. These would-be computer scientists have studied subjects, like history, theater or other subjects. Fortunately, if they take some foundational courses in the computer science field, then they’re often prepared to go on to a computer science master’s program, even if they didn’t major in computer science.

Finally, it’s important to note that many people go this route, because they need to learn some specific skill sets for an industry, like video animation, filmmaking, forensic science, museum exhibit design and corporate training. For these future professionals, their computer science knowledge coupled with their coursework in their chosen field may be just what they need to land the job of their choice.

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