If you are thinking of changing your career and moving to a new field, you are not alone. Thanks to coronavirus, the world is transforming faster than ever, and you may be inspired to start something new. A Masters degree can take you there.
Changing direction with a Masters degree has its challenges, but it is not impossible. In fact, it can be a major boost to your career.
What do you need to know before switching fields? Here are the top things to consider.
How big a career change are you planning?
Changing your plans can be daunting, and often the hardest part is knowing where to start. First, you can gauge the distance between where you are right now and where you would like to be.
Are you looking to transition to a completely new field? Switching to a degree in STEM or Business from another background may be the hardest jump to make. However, the potential gains from this kind of change are also the greatest.
Many CEOs and visionaries have started out with seemingly unrelated degrees, only to later specialize in Business, Economics, or Tech. Did you know that Jack Ma, multibillionaire and co-founder of Alibaba.com, started with a B.A. in English, while Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, holds a B.A. in History and Literature? They say that their first degree enabled them to dream big, while a secondary specialisation gave them the tools to realise their vision. You would need to do some extra work to get into a Business or STEM program, but it would be worth it.
On the other hand, switching to a different subfield within your general area is comparatively easy. For example, if you already have a background in Economics, applying to a Masters in Finance would not be an issue from an academic standpoint, despite the fact that it opens up entirely new career prospects. The same would be true in changing from Psychology to Sociology, or even from Mathematics to Business. Admissions committees would appreciate the foundational skills you have gained in your Bachelor’s and will expect you to build on them.
In either case, changing fields is certainly possible, and an unconventional combination of degrees can supercharge your career.
Is it harder to get admitted if you are changing fields?
Masters applicants who want to enter a new field have some extra work to do as part of their application process. They need to demonstrate to the admissions committee that they are ready for the challenge.
To do that, you need to structure your application so that it tells a story. The personal statement can narrate your journey so far and your aspirations after completing the degree.
Test results, for example from the GRE or GMAT, should prove that you are academically prepared to undertake your course of study. For example, if you are looking to enter a STEM field, your score in the numerical reasoning part of the exam should be excellent. Conversely, if you are applying to a Social Science discipline, your reading comprehension and writing scores should stand out.
Finally, real-life experience can offset a lack of formal training. Use your CV/resume to show your engagement with your new field through work or volunteering. For instance, if you are going into Finance, you can highlight how you have managed large budgets at work.
For more advice on structuring the materials in your grad school application to tell a compelling story, check out this article.
How to choose a degree programme in your new field
Masters degrees can be classified as theoretical versus practical. Most universities offer a combination of the two, but the emphasis tends to fall more on one or the other. Traditional theoretical courses broaden your knowledge of a discipline, while practical degrees prepare you for a certain kind of job. As a newcomer to a field, which one should you choose?
If you are entering a completely new field, a broader, theory-focused degree may be a better choice. It would give you a solid foundation on which to continue to build throughout your new career. If you are only now starting your formal training in Finance, for example, you would not want to limit your prospects with an overly specialised degree. What if the particular skills you learn become outdated? Wider knowledge would allow you to later transition to different and higher-ranking positions in your area.
On the other hand, if you are going for a Masters that builds on your previous knowledge and helps you apply it in a new setting, a more practice-oriented degree would make sense. It can help you find your own niche. For example, if you come from Architecture, an applied Masters in Web Design may provide more valuable training than studying design fundamentals once again.
Remember – experience in another discipline is an asset
There is no way around it—change is hard. But innovation happens when we step out of our comfort zone and allow ourselves to tackle new problems with curiosity and a beginner’s mind. Entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, Susan Wojcicki, and so many others would not be where they are today if they had followed a pre-set path. Their background was unconventional and, because they thought differently, they achieved extraordinary results.
The point of a Masters degree is to expand your horizons. Dare to try something new and you may be surprised to see where it takes you.