Does My Undergraduate Major Matter if I'm Going to Grad School?

The answer to this question is yes… and no.
College is a great place to explore intellectual ideas, your identity, and the world. Undergraduate majors allow you to specialize in topics that interest you.
Graduate school acts as a compliment to your undergraduate degree. While you might not have studied exactly the same things, the combination of both degrees can prepare you for a future in law, medicine, business, academia, etc. Let’s take a minute to understand the effect your undergraduate major will have on your future in graduate school.

1. Why Your Undergraduate Major Matters

Majors can play an enormous role in shaping your future profession: nurses, teachers, architects, and engineers are a few examples of majors that prepare you for a career in a specific field. Universities often have entire colleges dedicated to these pursuits. Many students choose to pursue a graduate degree in one of these fields after receiving an undergraduate degree in that specific field. A student with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, for example, might choose to go on to receive a doctorate in nursing.
Other majors, like biology, can lead you naturally towards a science-related graduate degree such as a medical degree, or a master’s in public health. A major in creative writing can lead to an MFA. Political science majors often go on to law school. If your interest lies in a certain field as an undergraduate, then you can pursue that same interest in graduate school.

2. Why Your Undergraduate Major Does NOT Matter

One buzzword contributes to some intriguing crossovers in education today: interdisciplinary.  Though unconventional, interdisciplinary approaches are changing our professional landscape by mixing up the paths that lead a student to graduate school. Instead of expecting a linear path from undergraduate to graduate school, as we saw above, employers and grad schools are happy to have people from less traditional backgrounds.
Some people are hesitant to apply for certain graduate programs because their undergraduate major doesn’t perfectly relate. However, the interdisciplinary way of thinking celebrates these differences; instead of assuming that they’re under-qualified because their major isn’t the same as the focus of the graduate program they’re interested in, students should embrace the unique skills and perspectives their major gives them and seek to apply them to their new graduate program. 
Here are some examples of interdisciplinary strengths in graduate school: 
  • Medicine

    Art, film, and English majors are in high demand by medical schools. These majors, and others in the fine arts and humanities, strengthen the emotional capacities, humanistic focus, and people skills that make capable physicians. Physicians like Dr. Paul Kalanithi spotlights the role of his English major background in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, When Breath Becomes Air.  

  • Law

    Scientific knowledge can be a big asset in multiple fields of law. Intellectual property law, patent law, and law dealing with artificial intelligence requires in-depth understanding of scientific principles, so those with engineering, medical, or physical science backgrounds excel. 

  • MFA

    If you’re considering getting a master of fine arts, you don’t need to have majored in studio art; in fact, an engineering background can help you succeed in an MFA program. The design process and visual elements of art can draw heavily upon the skills developed by the meticulous mathematical experience of engineers.

The successful combinations of undergraduate and graduate degrees are endless. If you get creative about your approach, graduate school opportunities can appear in unlikely places. Consider asking an advisor—or calling a prospective graduate program, medical school, or law school—to learn more about opportunities for your given major or skill-set.