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Posted on 21 Nov '19

Changing Subjects for Postgraduate Study

What happens when you want to take up postgraduate study, but not in the subject you did your Bachelors in?

Well, that’s up to you really. It’s completely fine (and actually pretty common!) to feel a sense of disconnect from your undergraduate degree or current vocation, and decide to pursue a new or unrelated subject at postgraduate level.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to switch things up – whether you’re aspiring towards a particular career or simply finding that your academic interests lie elsewhere – the decision is yours.

This blog provides some helpful advice about postgraduate study for prospective students intending to change subjects from their undergraduate programme.

Do some research

Before you even think about applying, carefully consider your options.

Don’t feel like you have to study a postgraduate degree to match your academic credentials to your hobbies or experience and boost your employability. Although employers are increasingly recognising postgraduate degrees, they tend to value passion and knowledge of the field more.

Then, conduct some thorough research. You might find that a conversion course such as a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) suits you better than a Masters in International Law, for example.

Secondly, look at the different programmes on offer at multiple institutions and judge the kind of content they cover. The process of choosing the ‘right’ course which aligns with your interests and career prospects can be frustrating, but will be profitable in the future.

The application

Applying for a postgraduate degree can be confusing. The process may differ depending on the institution and varies from programme to programme.

As well as detailing your academic and work history, postgraduate applications usually require you to write a personal statement. This is your chance to elaborate on any relevant study or work history and discuss the strengths you will bring to the course.

Writing an effective personal statement is particularly important if you intend to change subjects for your Masters because this is where you can provide as much evidence that you’re an ideal candidate for a place on the course as possible.

The smartest way to do this is to tailor your submission to the specific degree and institution you’re applying for. This demonstrates your commitment and tells the admissions team that changing subject won’t hinder your chances of success on the course.

Starting your degree

It probably goes without saying that a postgraduate degree is different to an undergraduate programme.

The wide variety of courses available mean there are more opportunities to study niche or specialised subjects than at Bachelors level or equivalent.

This may require you to put in some extra work before you start if you want to be prepared. Entering a postgraduate degree with an undergraduate qualification in a different subject could be a little jarring, but there are plenty of resources to support you – including our guide to studying a Masters!

You may find that coming from a background in a different field really benefits the quality of your work. The experiences and skills gained from your previous course or work could give you some innovative insight which provides a creative way of approaching the material on your Masters.

Your dissertation

Postgraduate dissertations are fun (no, really!). You have to demonstrate that you’ve actually learnt something on the course, but it’s also a chance to explore a topic that you’re passionate about.

Dissertation supervisors and external examiners read a lot of academic material, a great deal of which covers very similar ground. Drawing on some of your knowledge from your undergrad or work history to craft an imaginative and original research project will make your work stand out.

Remember that university staff and services are there to help you make the most of your studies. Many academics have likely been in similar situations, so don’t be afraid to turn to them for advice or guidance if you need some extra support.

Editor's note: A version of this blog was first published on 14/07/2018. We've checked and updated it for current readers.

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