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How much harder to get into PhD program that wasn't your undergrad major?


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Admission websites seem so inviting and make it seem like it's no big deal to apply to a graduate program that wasn't exactly what you studied as an undergrad, as long as the two somewhat related. I'm sure that's just because they want to collect as many application fees as possible and give themselves the best possible pool of applicants to choose from, so I can't put too much stock in that.

Has anybody here been successful in making a slight (or major) transition of disciplines from undergrad to grad? Did you apply to both programs that matched your undergrad degree as well as ones that were more focused in the new area of interest, and if so, was the rate of acceptance higher for the former? Do you recommend any strategies to help show admissions committees that you will be successful in the new discipline?

I'm not making a major transition really, in my opinion. My B.S. is in biology, and I focused in molecular bio. But many of the programs I applied to are within the Chem dept because I want to get into the chemical biology and biophysics track of study. But do you think admissions will see my slightly mismatched background as a major issue, or is it not going to be a big deal? By the way I did discuss thoroughly my reasons for wanting to make this change in my SoP.

Edited by onceinalifetime
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I never applied to grad school in the field of my undergrad degree so I can't say how that affected my applications or anything about the acceptance rate. I wrote a coherent SOP explaining what I want to study, how it related to what I'd previously studied, and why I wanted to attend that program for each school (heavily tailored). I had great success with admissions and funding both times (MA and PhD). You show them you'll be successful by talking about your background and how that has helped prepare you for the research you want to do. If you can do that convincingly, then you should be fine.

 

There have been related discussions about this before:

http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/22991-any-successful-grad-applicants-in-programs-they-didnt-do-their-undergrad-in/

http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/68447-choosing-a-major/

http://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/55537-different-major-in-grad-school-from-undergrad/

 

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I've basically changed (or better yet, refined) my fields of studies since my undergrad and I haven't run into too many issues yet. As long as you have taken the major prereqs that a typical entering grad student would have gone through - then you should be fine. Some diversity in the incoming class' training can be looked upon as favorable in many cases. Since you are aiming at more chemistry heavy programs, you'll have to demonstrate that you have a solid foundation that would allow you to excel in a chemical biology program (e.g. taking a few biochem, synthesis, or at the very least some advanced chem courses or having done research in an area that was close). For example, I was a ChE for my undergrad but I took a ton of chem classes so I got into a chem master's program doing research on DNA damage which eventually helped me get into cancer biology programs.

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Exactly what everyone has said so far! As long as you explain your transition, you're good to go. My BS was in mathematics and physics and I switched to statistics. My program of choice accepted me as well as winning scholarships and fellowships that required me explaining my transition. You're golden!

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I would have to say I'm running into issues but that's mainly because my undergrad may be too much of a jump for some of the programs I've looked into. I was really interested in Public History but without a major/minor in history it's pretty much an auto-rejection. Oh well, I've applied to other programs but it would be nice to have more options. For reference I'm getting a geology BS and I want to eventually become a program director/outreach director in a science museum.

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3 hours ago, Need Coffee in an IV said:

I would have to say I'm running into issues but that's mainly because my undergrad may be too much of a jump for some of the programs I've looked into. I was really interested in Public History but without a major/minor in history it's pretty much an auto-rejection. Oh well, I've applied to other programs but it would be nice to have more options. For reference I'm getting a geology BS and I want to eventually become a program director/outreach director in a science museum.

I don't think you need a history degree to be a program director/outreach director in a science museum. The director of the Bradbury Museum at Los Alamos, NM has her BS in Biology and Geology and a MS in Geology (paleontology emphasis). However, I haven't looked into at all how to become a program director/outreach director of a science museum, so maybe there is something one must do in addition?

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@littlemoondragon You are right that I don't need it! I just like having options, so I was having a mini rant ha. The programs I applied too have more diverse faculty than most public history programs anyways since they are interdisciplinary programs. Most of the time you need experience or the masters degree. Right now I have two years of working in museums and with the MA I'm sure I'll eventually land a position. Plus it helps that I'm going after smaller more regional places than compared to the Smithsonian.

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In my particular field, I have not found it to be a problem. I am in a graduate program for educational/school psychology. A lot of the people in my program, did not study psychology or education as undergraduates. We have a kid who was pre law, a girl who was studying health science, and lots of other random stuff. 

 

However, you have to take into account that the people in my program who have degrees in other areas, didn't come directly from undergraduate to this graduate program. Many of them went out and worked for a few years beforehand and then applied to graduate school. I'm sure that helped to offset the fact that they had degrees in other things.

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I got into a PhD Materials Engineering program with a BSc Geophysics, so I don't think it's that much harder, although I think the requirements are more relaxed for the materials sciences because they more or less accept most applicants from the physical sciences or engineering, which is a good thing.

Regarding the transition for me, I think that it's not particularly difficult because most of what I studied during undergraduate years is quite similar to what I am doing right now. Eventhough the fields might not seem related here, I just focused on finding that one part that overlaps both fields, and put it into the application.

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21 hours ago, Reyzadren said:

I got into a PhD Materials Engineering program with a BSc Geophysics, so I don't think it's that much harder, although I think the requirements are more relaxed for the materials sciences because they more or less accept most applicants from the physical sciences or engineering, which is a good thing.

Regarding the transition for me, I think that it's not particularly difficult because most of what I studied during undergraduate years is quite similar to what I am doing right now. Eventhough the fields might not seem related here, I just focused on finding that one part that overlaps both fields, and put it into the application.

Is that the guy from Deus Ex in your profile pic? I love that game

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