Karthik Natesan (India) - Nyenrode Business University


When would a university accept you into a master’s without a bachelor’s?

You might assume that having a bachelor’s degree is a necessity for being accepted into a master’s program, but in some cases, universities will accept you into a master’s without a bachelor’s. Instead of a bachelor’s, they may instead accept relevant work experience and allow you to study a so-called "post-experience master’s" (we cover this in more detail below). This depends both on the university and the field of study.

Some universities might be more willing to accept work experience over qualifications as it forms part of their overall vision and philosophy. They could simply be an institution that favors work experience over academic qualifications, for instance.

There are also certain fields of master’s study that don’t necessarily require an undergraduate degree because of the nature of the program. One such example is the Master of Science in Nursing at Simmons University, which accepts registered nurses without an undergraduate degree into the program.

Let’s also take the example of journalism. While a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline would undoubtedly help, in reality, the skills required to succeed in journalism are different from those you would acquire in other subjects. For this reason, you’re likely to find some universities that welcome applications from candidates without a formal degree, such as the Online Master’s Degree in Journalism at Falmouth University.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field

Although it is possible to be accepted into a master’s program without a bachelor’s degree, you are much more likely to encounter universities that accept a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Bachelor’s degrees tend to provide students with a set of core skills (such as writing, IT, and communication), which can be transferred into other disciplines. 

One example of this is the Master in Management (MIM) program at Nyenrode Business University. MIM student Karthik Natesan explained to us that his university offers something called a "Pre-Master" to help degree holders in unrelated fields.

“The [MIM] at Nyenrode is mainly for people who do not have a business background," he explains. "Most of us are engineers and most of us do not have business experience, so the pre-master is like an equivalence course where you learn basic subjects like business statistics, finance, economics...programs like that.” (09:33)

The different types of master’s degrees

There are typically two types of master’s degrees: pre-experience and post-experience. Pre-experience master’s degrees generally do not expect applicants to have any work experience. On the other hand, post-experience master’s degrees tend to demand work experience alongside relevant qualifications.

A typical MBA or EMBA is an example of a post-experience master’s, while Karthik’s MIM program is an example of a pre-experience master’s. This is because an MBA or EMBA requires applicants to have more years of work experience than a MIM candidate. For example, INSEAD MIM applicants are not expected to have any work experience at all, yet INSEAD MBA candidates have an average of six years of work experience and EMBA candidates have an average of 12.

In a nutshell:

  • It is possible to do a master’s program without having a bachelor’s degree.
  • Whether it is possible depends on a number of factors including the specific university you’re applying to and the field of study.
  • Universities are much more likely to accept a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field than no bachelor’s at all.
  • Master’s degrees generally come in two forms: pre-experience and post-experience:
    • Pre-experience master’s degrees do not normally expect applicants to have any work experience.
    • Post-experience master’s degrees tend to demand work experience alongside relevant qualifications.
  • If you want to study a master’s without a bachelor’s, it’s more likely that you will have to study a post-experience master’s.
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