Can You Get a Master’s Degree Without a Bachelor’s Degree?

Whether or not you can study for a master’s degree without a bachelor’s degree largely depends on the type of master’s program you want to join. We did the research and spoke with a current master’s student to find out more.

In short

When Would a University Accept You Into a Master’s Program Without a Bachelor’s Degree?

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 program without a bachelor’s degree. Instead of a bachelor’s degree, they may accept relevant work experience in a “post-experience master’s program” (more details below). This depends both on the university and the field of study.

Some universities are more willing to accept work experience as it forms part of their overall vision and philosophy. 

There are also certain fields 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.

Alternative Pathways to a Master's Degree

The traditional route to a master’s degree involves first obtaining a bachelor’s degree. However, there are several alternative pathways that prospective students can consider:

  • Bridge Programs: Some universities offer bridge or pathway programs designed for students who have an associate’s degree or significant work experience. These programs often include foundational courses that prepare students for the rigors of a master’s program.
  • Competency-Based Assessments: Instead of relying solely on formal education, some institutions evaluate a candidate’s knowledge and skills through competency-based assessments. These tests gauge a student’s proficiency in specific areas, allowing them to bypass certain prerequisites.
  • Online and Hybrid Programs: The rise of online education has led to more flexible master’s programs that cater to non-traditional students. Some online programs have more lenient admission requirements, especially if they’re designed for working professionals.
  • Portfolio Submissions: For fields like art, journalism, or design, a strong portfolio showcasing your work can sometimes outweigh the need for a formal bachelor’s degree. Some universities consider a well-curated portfolio as evidence of a candidate’s skills and potential.

Holding a Bachelor’s Degree in an Unrelated Field

You are much more likely to encounter master’s programs that accept a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Bachelor’s degrees provide students with a set of core skills (such as writing, IT, and communication) that apply across 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 Programs

There are typically two types of master’s programs: pre-experience and post-experience. Pre-experience master’s programs generally do not expect applicants to have any work experience. On the other hand, post-experience master’s programs 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 several 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 programs do not normally expect applicants to have any work experience.
    • Post-experience master’s programs tend to demand work experience alongside relevant qualifications.
  • Without a bachelor’s, it’s more likely that you will have to join a post-experience master’s program.

The Impact of a Master’s Degree on Career and Personal Growth

Pursuing a master’s degree without a bachelor’s can have profound implications for both career advancement and personal development:

  • Career Advancement: In many industries, a master’s degree can open doors to higher-paying positions, leadership roles, and specialized fields.
  • Networking Opportunities: Master’s programs often provide students with opportunities to network with professionals, professors, and peers in their chosen field. This can lead to job offers, collaborations, and long-term professional relationships.
  • Skill Enhancement: Beyond the specific skills related to one’s field of study, pursuing a master’s degree hones critical thinking, research abilities, and problem-solving skills. These competencies are valuable in virtually any profession.
  • Personal Growth: On a personal level, completing a master’s program can boost confidence, foster lifelong learning habits, and provide a deep sense of accomplishment. The journey can be especially rewarding for those who have taken non-traditional paths in their education.

Reach out to a student ambassador to hear first-hand what it takes to get into a master’s program.

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