Career change: second bachelors or masters?

I have a bachelors in economics, but now want to pursue a career in engineering. Do I get a second bachelors or do people usually go into a masters program when they say they’re “going back to school”?

How would a career change work if, say, you had an English degree and wanted to go into computer science? Getting a masters in computer science in that case would be excessive and unrealistic since you would have to pretty much take an entire undergraduate program again. I assume then you would just get another bachelors?

I personally don’t know many people with multiple bachelors so I don’t know how common this is. I hope those of you who have changed careers would post your experiences and some advice for me.

It really depends if there is a typical path from the undergraduate degree to the graduate degree. For example, it is quite common (and even encouraged) for people without business undergraduate degrees to enter MBA programs. Other fields are more linear. For example, to get a graduate degree in engineering you would typically require an undergraduate degree in the same engineering specialization. One bright spot – many engineers have very successful and lucrative careers with just an undergraduate degree.

If your goal is to advance in your current field, then “going back to school” would usually mean pursuing a more advanced degree in the same area as your undergraduate degree. If your goal is a career change, then getting another undergraduate degree is more common.

Also, you are correct regarding the English to Computer Science transition. It is unlikely any of the English degree coursework would transfer to Computer Science degree (other than perhaps some arts electives), so you would be back to square one.

As a final point, don’t be intimidated about going back into an undergraduate program. You will likely be older than most of your classmates, but it is quite common for the adult students to be among the best in the class.

I hope this helps, and good luck in your studies. :slight_smile:

It depends on how related the two fields are. I decided to change careers at the end of getting my undergraduate degree, after I couldn’t get into any master’s programs related to my undergraduate degree (Fine Art). (They all wanted me to take some time to further develop my ideas…while doing what? Waitressing? The heck with that.)

I wanted to go into archaeology, so I took a year off after my undergraduate degree and went to community college, where I took a lot of anthropology courses, and volunteered at a dig on weekends. The master’s program admitted me on that, and on the strength of my undergraduate grades. I also made a case for Fine Art being related to archaeology, because I did have extensive experience with materials like ceramics at the end of that degree. You might be able to get away with doing something like that.

It would be better to go for advanced degree in economics as it could result in better career ahead. Economics field has vast jobs opportunities related to it.

I had a Linguistics degree and wanted to go into computer science, and yes, I got a second bachelor’s. I did it through a sub-college at the local university, which was designed for people who had been in the working world a while. Most of the classes were online, most of the students were older, and many of them were getting a second bachelor’s. I didn’t have to take an entire undergraduate program again, because they counted all the “general” classes from my first degree toward my second. All I had to take were the 30 or so credits for the major, and so I was able to complete it in just over a year, even while working 30 hours a week.

You can probably find programs like this in your area, but if you’re interested in the one I went to, PM me and I can give you more details. You don’t have to be local; many of the students were military stationed overseas.

Sorry, I haven’t finished my coffee. My program didn’t have an engineering track; I conflated your hypothetical of computer science with what you actually want to do. Still, I’m betting that many, if not most, schools have a similar kind of arrangement for people getting a second bachelors.

Have you actually looked at undergraduate engineering curricula? That should answer your question very quickly.

Edit: The story is slightly different if you’re actually looking at computer science degrees. There, you might be able to get away with doing just some remedial coursework as part of a master’s degree as long as your math background is strong enough. But that’s not like other engineering fields.

How mathy was your undergrad econ degree? Many of the masters courses in my program are crosslisted bachelors courses, and for bachelors students most of them require at least one semester of calculus, so a motivated undergrad econ student might have up to three semesters of calculus plus differential equations and/or linear algebra. On the other hand, some of them have one semester of Calculus Circus. If you’re closer to the former group than the latter, you might be quite well prepared for a masters program in engineering.

If you feel prepared for it, you should consider emailing the assistant director (at least, that’s what they call our point of contact to the outside world) of the engineering masters program you’re considering and ask whether they get a lot of outsiders applying and being admitted.

Full disclosure: I switched fields between my BA and my MS-expected-2010, but it was from one field of social science to another, so that hardly counts.

I resemble this remark. I graduated with a BA in English 8 years ago (ye gods!) and am currently in my second-to-last semester of a masters program in IT.

Obviously I had an interest in computers; in fact, I think if I had attended college just one or two years later, I would have gone straight for the BS in Comp Sci or something. The internet was just going from novelty act to backbone of the universe while I was in college, but it was too late for me to think about switching.

Since graduating, I’ve picked up IT bits and pieces from my various jobs, and I know my way around hardware and software, but I wouldn’t consider that I’ve received a degree’s worth of training. But I asked an aunt and uncle who are both in the field, and they recommended pursuing a masters.

I am taking all classes totally online, but this is a real, honest-to-goodness university, with a nationally-known football team and everything. So far I have found that I fit in pretty well. I did need to take an intro to Java course as a prerequisite for full admission, but my school was able to point me in the direction of a great one, all online as well. I have taken 8 classes out of 10, and so far there has only been one that assumed knowledge I didn’t really have. I was able to fake it by doing some quick brushing up and using that course’s group-centered work to my advantage. I’ve actually found that advertising my English background serves me well when groups are being formed for papers.

I really feel that the difference between masters and high-level undergrad classes isn’t where they start, but where they end up. Almost every class I’ve taken has begun with the basics. They just ramp up faster and cover more material than an undergrad. I have not found it overwhelming–the hard part is not learning the material, it’s balancing the classes with a full-time job and child. Actually, there is one other thing that’s probably different from an undergrad degree: I had to take a management class. It interested me not at all, but requirements are requirements.

If all goes well, I will be graduating next May. I can’t promise there’s a job out there waiting for me, but I think it will work out OK (obviously, or I wouldn’t be spending all this effort).

I actually know two people who went into a Masters program in electrical engineering with liberal arts degrees. One had a BA in business administration and the other had a BA in economics (? - IIRC, might have been poly sci). They both were admitted to the university (CU Boulder), but not to the Masters program. Being in the university, they enrolled in the relevant graduate level EE classes and after only 1 semester they had proved themselves to several professors sufficiently to be admitted to the program. They both received their MSEE in 2 years.

Both of these guys were highly motivated hard workers with cash that they had saved during the previous 5-6 years of working. They did not need to work during their first year in the program and thus were able to keep up with the work during that initial steep learning curve. This was in the late 90s; I believe they both graduated in 1998. Both of them are very well off now, one working in a upper managerial position at Google and the other the VP at a large east coast engineering firm. They both make serious bank.

I have no idea where you’re located but Boston University has a program specifically for people with non-engineering undergrad degrees to get a master’s in engineering.

Sir John, may I ask what university you’re getting your degree from? Feel free to PM me if you don’t want to say in here. I ask because that program sounds like something I’d like to look into.

I’m in a similar position in that I have a bachelor’s degree (a BS in Business Administration), but I want to go back to school for something different. I have no interest in a master’s in business, and really I just kind of settled into that undergraduate degree because I had no idea what I wanted to do in college. Whatever I go back for, it pretty much has to be online, since I work full time.

One field I’m considering is technical writing, but I’m still looking around trying to decide for sure what I want to do. Anyone else know of any other master’s programs that a bachelor’s in business might qualify me for?

Hi I know this is a mega bump, but google led me to this thread and board and thought I would respond… As I am actually doing the opposite of several people in this thread.

I did undergrad in Information Systems, (very similar to Computer Science) and actually doing a 2nd Undergrad Degree, and this time at a MUCH better school, state university vs usnwr top 10 university (other ivy). I am doing and English Literature degree and want to get into publishing/editing/journalism anything along those lines just to get my foot in the door. Even if I am qualified and do some of it on the side, the companies still want that degree unfortunately. Yes none of the classes overlap whatsoever. All my 300/400 level classes were Business/Computer Science…

I had thought about doing BA/MA combo to assure myself at a less prestigious school but think the school I am going to in the city I want to work will suffice and also help with networking. I do not think the MA is necessary and also out of my budget to do it. I would however do it once I get 2nd BA and company would pay for continuing education. Also with doing just a few classes as NDS and hoping to get into a Masters (which isn’t a guarantee) you won’t qualify for loans unless you are in a program.

To the person who says you can just get another degree in same field well, that would do you no good. It’s hard doing something you hate doing and doing it well.

Usually IT is not computer science, although it can include computer science topics. CS curricula, as I’ve usually seen them, deal with the design and architecture of hardware, or with the mathematical optimization of algorithms. IT or MIS programs can touch on these topics, and in a more than trivial way, but they aren’t the primary focus. If the college or department teaching the program is any indication, at my school the MIS program is taught my the college of business–leading me to think it’s been conceived as a component the student can add to their education without knowing much about it beforehand.

I’m curious whether the OP’s economics degree had much mathematical content in it. (After all, John Nash won his Nobel not for mathematics, but for economics.) If it did, and the OP was comfortable with this math, then maybe engineering graduate school isn’t such a huge stretch. FTR I’m not an engineer, so it’s possible I’m just blowing smoke out my backside.

Imho, it depends on the job you want and the typical job requirements needed. Note that in some fields, usually because of government regulations, you might need different qualifications in a few years.

I have 10+ years of teaching experience, and BA/MA in related fields. However, I am unable to teach at a public school in my area. Also, when I applied to be a skills trainer, one year they said I was qualified, the next year they said I wasn’t. I had to have a degree in social sciences.

The skills trainer place also told me that any degree would qualify: AA, BA, or even a 6 week training program certificate.

Therefore, before you make the decision about which major you want to change to, do the research and figure out what you need to get the job you want.

In general, getting a Masters is after some time in the work force is more common and better for a career, but:

I’m having a hard time imagining any Engineering Masters program accepting you with only business experience. I mean, to get an Engineering bachelor’s at most schools requires a good deal of heavy hard science, math, and statistics.

A business degree doesn’t really get anywhere near the depth an engineering bachelors does in these.

If you find a program that will accept you and get you up to speed, great. But I suspect most will want you to get a proper hard science background (courses, not necessarily a full second bachelor’s degree) before they will consider you for a Masters Engineering program.

To me, it sounds a bit like asking - “Well, I got my bachelors degree in English a few years back. Can I apply to Med School now?”

Not trying to crush your dreams, but you need some background to be an engineer. It’s a noble field and I hope you pursue it. I doubt you would need a second bachelor’s degree to go after it, but you probably should expect to have to do a lot of catchup on courses before a lot of places would even consider you.

Just my opinion, if you prove me wrong, great! ;D

Is this sarcasm? Economics degree 1985.

Sir John de Pebble;11696124]… I graduated with a BA in English 8 years ago (ye gods!) and am currently in my second-to-last semester of a masters program in IT.

Sir John, I am in a similar situation… I have a BA in Liberal Arts, which was great for teaching (I taught high school), but now I’ve been in the IT field as a systems analyst for the past 12 years. I’m trying to decide on a 2nd bachelors, BS in Information Systems, or a masters, MS in Information Systems. I’m just curious how things worked out for you since you posted this a few years back.

Also, if anyone else is or was in the same boat, how have things worked out for you?


Thomas Siebel had a BA in history, then went to Illinois for a CS masters. He’s a billionaire now.