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How to Earn Your Master’s Degree Without a Bachelor’s Degree

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

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Updated: May 13, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

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To be admitted to a graduate program—a master’s degree in particular—students must complete their undergrad and acquire some experience in their field. But did you know that it’s certainly possible to jump straight into a master’s program without a bachelor’s degree? 

Becoming a master’s degree holder without a bachelor’s degree is quite uncommon, but it is possible! Students can apply under the specific conditions set by the university in arrangements called the master’s combined program or the integrated program featuring a “two-in-one” (bachelor’s and a master’s) degree or through direct entry. 

Overview

Most universities expect master’s degree applicants to have earned a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, a master’s IS attainable even without an undergraduate diploma as a prerequisite! Ultimately, your qualifications, field of study, and university of choice come into play when deciding on this option.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Skipping a Step: Earn a Master’s Without a Bachelor’s Degree

Standard practices in educational attainment dictate that to obtain a master’s degree, a student must have completed a bachelor’s, preferably in a related field. It is typically a requirement for application to graduate study.

Certain universities across the United States, however, consider non-bachelor’s degree holders for admission to their master’s degree programs. Depending on the school, this type of program applies to:

Here are helpful tips to be considered for a graduate program at the master’s level, even without completing a bachelor’s degree:

Bank on Your Professional Experience

Experiential learning lets you acquire the expertise often taught in universities. Professionals often encounter educational theories in a master’s program in work settings!

If you have professional experience, you may qualify for a master’s degree without a bachelor’s. Your expertise (brought about by years of professional experience) is easily comparable to or superior to students who have completed an undergraduate program. 

Regardless of your work experience in the field—be it in sales, business, or computer programming, this experience is very useful when you apply for a master’s degree. 

Master’s programs typically admit applicants with more than five or seven years of experience in a relevant field. A previously earned associate degree and other certifications also give you an advantage.

Earn a Professional Certificate (or Similar Educational Attainment)

A bachelor’s degree is often touted as the key to career stability and a fat paycheck. However, not everyone can earn it. In the US, 40% of undergraduate students drop out of college. Of these, 38% leave because of financial pressure.  

The remaining option for many is a short-cycle academic and training program. Earning a two-year associate degree, a professional credential, or a certificate—usually along with relevant experience—could be your ticket to a master’s degree.

Even without a bachelor’s degree, you can be considered by universities with these credentials. The trick is to find the right school and master’s program.

Use Your Degree Toward A New Field

Do you hold a bachelor’s degree but want entry into a master’s program that is completely unrelated to your area of study? Doing so will ultimately uncover more career options for you!

Typically, your undergraduate credits—regardless of your field or concentration—can get you a Master’s in Business Administration, a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, a Master’s in Human Resources, a Master’s in Nursing, a Master’s in Social Work, or a Master’s in Journalism program. These graduate programs, among many others, do not usually require an undergraduate in the same area of study.

Take the Shorter Routes to a Master’s Degree

If you plan on pursuing a master’s but lack the bachelor’s degree to be qualified for it, you can both at the same time through:

Schools That Offer a Master’s Degree without Requiring a Bachelor’s Degree

It all boils down to one question: does your university of choice admit applicants without a bachelor’s degree to their master’s program? This program has different names in different grad schools:

Consider these schools when applying for a master’s degree without a bachelor’s degree:

The Importance of Earning a Master’s Degree

An accredited university confers a master’s degree to students who have mastered a generally agreed and well-established set of knowledge within a particular area. As industries are rapidly changing because of technological advances and shifting regulations, it’s about time to look to a master’s degree to provide stability. 

Here’s how a master’s degree can help you in your academic and career goals:

Ease in Career Shift

When you have a master’s degree, you can easily switch careers, especially if you’re an experienced professional. For example, a teacher who has earned a master’s degree can shift to becoming a principal, a superintendent, or even a curriculum designer.

Also, many employers prefer to tap professionals with a master’s degree for management-level careers. 

Increased Earning Potential

Education is a huge investment, and a master’s degree is no exception. But from an investment perspective, the higher pay it promises to graduates is well worth it.

Professionals with a master’s degree in communication disorder sciences, biology, or business administration can earn 51%-87% more than their contemporaries with only a bachelor’s degree. The same goes for master’s degree holders in the communications and education administration fields. 

Keep in mind, though, that conditions may change. Research the job market thoroughly before you choose a program. Try seeking advice from career advisors to explore different options. 

Right Aptitude to Beat a Tough Job Market

When you are in a tight job market, the only advantage you get is to have a master’s degree. Completing the program demonstrates your passion and mastery of skills in the field.

Talk about your master’s degree in job interviews and emphasize how this is an advantage. You can even promote your educational experience through your resumé or cover letter.

Up-to-date Expertise in Your Field

Have you heard about continuing education courses? Many college-educated professionals undergo professional development classes to learn new sets of skills. With a master’s degree, students are provided with an in-depth education in their fields’ latest and best practices. The degrees also help professionals meet their state’s license renewal requirements. 

As a working professional, you can use your expertise and skills to do your job well. And with a master’s degree, you get to hone and improve these skills even more. This will protect you from potential layoffs and other negative economic trends.

Plus, new skills come with additional benefits. For instance, you may discover new interests that will be a great addition to your skills. 

Preparation for a Doctorate

While doctoral programs only require applicants with a bachelor’s degree, having a master’s degree gives you an advantage. Since most master’s programs have coursework in original research, you get to develop your writing, research, and analytical skills in projects before finally completing your thesis.

These skills are critical in a doctoral degree because most programs need dissertations. With the skills you acquired from your master’s program, it becomes easier for you to write your dissertation come your doctoral degree program. 

A Wider Network and Credibility Boost

There is so much more to a master’s program than just earning the degree. With a master’s degree, you can expand your online network with your professors and peers. Join professional development workshops and networking events. This gives you new professional contacts that you can later use to explore better career opportunities.

When you earn a master’s degree, this significantly boosts your credibility—something that is beneficial both for the applicant and employees. Employees with a master’s degree hold specialized knowledge, thus making them industry experts. Their co-workers can seek advice from them, which increases respect in the workplace. 

Bachelor’s or Master’s: Which Degree is a Suitable Fit?

Selecting a degree program can be a difficult decision. Which program is the best fit for you based on your career aspirations and background? Your academic background is a good place to start when considering a degree.

A bachelor’s degree program is good for you if:

A master’s degree program is a wise choice if:

Dispelling Master’s Degree Myths

Unconvinced that a master’s degree works to your advantage? Here are myths that have many people questioning the use or value of a master’s degree: 

Myth #1. Your master’s degree should be in the same field as your bachelor’s.

Truth: As long as you complete all the prerequisites, with or without a bachelor’s degree, you can apply for any master’s degree. 

If you plan on switching careers or learning new skills, you won’t need to start from scratch. There are so many master’s programs today that are structured so that these courses complement one another. 

Myth #2. A master’s degree is very expensive; thus, it is not worth it.

Truth: Investing in a master’s degree gives you an ideal ROI. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that most of the country’s highest-paying careers need a master’s degree. Nurse anesthetists, for example, earn $205,770 on average and must have a master’s degree.

Chief executives who make roughly $246,440 a year also hold an MBA. The top-paying positions of research scientist, economist, and political scientist also require a master’s degree. 

Myth #3. It is inconvenient to go back to school—and pursue a graduate degree at that.

Truth: So long as you apply for the right program, you won’t have difficulty securing your slot. And if you are bothered about your previous academic performance or fear taking entrance exams, there is nothing to worry about.

There are so many online degree programs today that look at the bigger approach to admitting students. These programs are made easier so that students can balance their coursework and other obligations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it hard to pursue a master’s degree without a bachelor’s degree?

A master’s degree prepares you for and gives you access to better career options, but earning it without a bachelor’s is, in fact, challenging. From the perspective of a working professional, excelling in an advanced program of expectedly rigorous coursework—and without a related academic background—won’t be as easy.

It takes commitment and effort, as do all other graduate programs. There are options, though, to make the process convenient. Master’s degree programs are offered online, including those that accept non-bachelor’s degree holders. 

What professions require a master’s degree?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the careers below—each requiring at least a master’s degree—with a projected growth rate of 7%-45% between 2022 to 2032. For example, nurses and therapists need a state-issued license before practicing. Some of the jobs may also need professional certifications and years of experience. 

Career Projected Growth Rate (2022-2032)

Nurse Practitioner – 38%

Speech Language Pathologist – 19%

Statistician – 30%

Physician Assistant – 27%

Computer and Information Research Scientist – 23%

Occupational Therapist – 12%

Marriage and Family Therapist – 15%

School and Career Counselor/Advisor – 5%

Urban and Regional Planner – 4%

Postsecondary Education Administrator – 4%

The Top 10 Highest-Paying, Master’s Degree-Level Jobs

A master’s degree is a very great investment!

1. Chief Executives

They are the ones who set policies for organizations and companies and act as the highest decision-makers. Example titles are CEO, COO, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Government Service Executive, Governor, Mayor, or County Commissioner.

Median Annual Wage: $103,840

2. Nurse Anesthetists

They are the ones who administer anesthesia for patients who will undergo medical procedures. They also monitor each patient’s vital signs during a surgical procedure and administer an effective and safe dose of anesthesia. 

Median Annual Wage: $129,480

3. Computer and Information Research Scientists

They develop new approaches to computing technology and study complex computing problems to develop business solutions. Examples of job titles are Computational Theory Scientist, Computer Scientist, Control System Computer Scientist, or Programming Methodology and Languages Researcher.

Median Annual Wage: $145,080

4. Political Scientists

They research political subjects and ideas and college data on government, political trends, policies, and opinions. 

Median Annual Wage: $132,350

5. Physician Assistants

They are the ones that examine and treat patients. They work in teams with doctors and other healthcare workers. Physician assistants also check a patient’s medical history, order diagnostic tests, and conduct physical exams.

Median Annual Wage: $130,020

6. Nurse Practitioners

They are considered specialty care providers, offering advanced nursing care for patients. They can also diagnose conditions and administer treatments. In most states, these professionals are allowed to work independently from doctors and often specialize in psychiatric, pediatrics, mental health, and geriatric care. 

Median Annual Wage: $129,480

7. Economists

These professionals collect and study data on the distribution and production of goods, resources, and services. Economists study and research economic issues and trends or conduct surveys and gather data. They also advise government and businesses on economic issues and forecast market trends. 

Median Annual Wage: $115,730

8. Nurse Midwives

They provide prenatal care services, family planning, and other gynecological concerns among women. They are also the ones who deliver babies and give postpartum care. 

Median Annual Wage: $131,570

9. Mathematicians

As experts in mathematical concepts that apply to real-world problem-solving situations, mathematicians are needed in different fields, including academia, the government, finance, and technology. 

Median Annual Wage: $104,860

10. Psychologists

They are the ones that study and interpret people and their social behavior. Although some positions will need a doctorate, other psychology jobs will only require a master’s degree, like a rehabilitation psychologist or a school psychologist. 

Median Annual Wage: $92,740

Should you have a master’s degree to better qualify for a job?

While some jobs are okay with minimal education requirements, careers like biomedical engineering, data scientists, and speech-language pathologists demand a master’s degree. 

A master’s degree also makes you a more appealing job candidate. The degree somehow is a “want” for employers and not a “must.” Therefore, if you intend to get a specific position, check job postings to see what is ‘preferred’ and ‘required’ when applying for the position. 

Key Takeaways

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