Can I Get a Second Bachelor’s Degree? Is it a Good Idea?
July 10, 2023
Do you ever wonder (or daydream) about getting a second bachelor’s degree? There are enough Hollywood movies are about going back to college to know that you definitely aren’t alone. But is it even possible to get a second bachelor’s degree?
The answer is yes. In this article, we’ll unpack some of the reasons why you might want a second bachelor’s degree, and what other options might be if not.
Contrary to what we see on the big screen, getting a second bachelor’s degree is a pretty controversial choice. The school haters who barely made it through college on the first go will look at you as if you have two heads. School lovers will get dreamy and praise your life decision without missing a beat. I myself wonder what my life would be like if I had taken Economics 101, or had majored in Computer Science at the start of the tech boom.
Generally speaking, if you’re thinking about getting a second bachelor’s degree, you are considering a complete and total career change.
Here is an example from the real world: I know a guy named Marco who went to a conservatory for classical double bass and then suddenly realized he wanted to become a farmer. What did he do? He got a second bachelor’s degree in Agrarian Studies.
First, let’s walk through the pros and cons, as well as how the process of getting your second bachelor’s degree differs from your first. Then we’ll look at common examples of fields of study and their bachelor’s degree requirements.
Why Get a Second Bachelor’s Degree?
Most people enter college when they’re about eighteen or nineteen. That means choosing a major, or university, is based on your experience of learning in high school and middle school, where you might not yet have discovered your obsession with marine biology.
On the flip side, the longer someone has been out of college, the more chances they have to discover a passion for a different field. After all, can you really be expected to know the trajectory of your life when you’re still figuring so many things out?
Luckily, there’s a Do Over button: getting a second bachelor’s degree in a different field. Unlike Will Ferrell in Old School, however, this is not a choice for the purpose of founding a fraternity and sumo wrestling. This is about getting the degree and academic preparation to follow your interests.
The following are some reasons why you might want a second bachelor’s degree:
1) The pure, sweet love of learning
A tradition in the Jewish religion is to put honey on a book to teach children that learning is sweet. Regardless of religious customs, learning is sweet–and a lifelong practice. Are you a retiree or empty-nester looking to throw yourself into a new passion? Have you just always been curious about geology? It’s never too late to become an expert in something new: it just takes time and dedication. So beyond taking a course here or there, why not get a well-rounded education in that subject?
2) You want to pursue a graduate degree but don’t have the foundational academic training to enter
First and foremost, check your ideal graduate degree’s requirements for applications! This is extremely important because sometimes you don’t need to major in that topic to get a graduate degree.
But in general, a bachelor’s degree is a great way of getting a taste of the span of your topic, beyond an intro course. It will help you feel confident when you start graduate studies, and it will also help you explore a range of topics so you can decide what you want to specialize in while in graduate school.
3) You’re considering a total career change, and need the knowledge basis starting from the fundamentals
As mentioned, it’s never too late to go back to college. If you realize the career path you’ve chosen just isn’t working for you, then doing a second bachelor’s degree can be a way of preparing for that shift.
There are several reasons why it can be helpful for a career change to start at the bachelor’s level. For one, it shows employers a commitment to your field of study. It also is a way of getting the most current information in the field.
Tips for Getting a Second Bachelor’s Degree
Before Applying: It might be good to take a class or two to make sure you’re committed to your new field. You could also potentially get your employer to pay for your degree if it would contribute to your company. Don’t be afraid to ask about tuition reimbursement!
Applying: Oh no, will you have to write another college essay? Do you need extracurriculars? How much will it cost? Now is the time for research, research, research. Make sure your selected program is strong in the field you’re interested in or will be cost-effective.
During the Degree: Most schools will take up to 60 transfer credits from your previous degree, so you can focus on your major. If you’re planning on working at the same time, consider doing this master’s online, or remotely for flexibility.
Is It Better to Get a Second Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree?
This question is tricky because it depends on a few different factors.
- Cost: Master’s degrees can be expensive, and are part of the student debt problem in the United States. In certain cases, it might be cheaper to go to a public university or community college for a second bachelor’s degree (2-4 years) instead of a Master’s degree (1-3 years).
- Return on Investment: A graduate degree such as a Master’s degree will increase your likelihood of getting a higher salary. A NACE study found that people Biology master’s degrees had up to an 87% salary differential! For other fields, this salary differential may be lower, but a Master’s degree–in any field–will often have a better return on investment than a second bachelor’s degree. (For more on the benefits of graduate school, click here.)
- Time: Depending on how many credits you can transfer, a Bachelor’s degree will take 2-4 years (usually 3 on average). A Master’s will be faster, at 1-3 years on average.
- Specialization: If you want a low-pressure introduction, a second bachelor’s might be the way for you. If you want to immediately dig into complexities and get more specialized learning, go for the Master’s.
Common Fields for Career Switches and Their Hidden Requirements
- Master’s in Journalism: there’s no need to have majored in Journalism or Communications (or, double-check the requirement). But you may want the practice of a major to build up your journalism portfolio, in which case a bachelor’s degree in Journalism could create a helpful structure.
- Master’s in Biology: It is highly likely that you will need undergraduate biology courses on your transcript to apply for a Master’s in Biology. Plus, a strong undergraduate knowledge background of biology will prepare you for the specificity and rigor of graduate-level biology research.
- Master’s in Engineering: Typically you need a Bachelor’s in Engineering to apply for a Master’s in Engineering. In some cases, another STEM major will work–but if you studied something like Gender & Sexuality Studies, it would make the most sense to get a second bachelor’s. Or find an accelerated course!
- Computer Programming/Coding: There are tons of options here. You might look into Coding Boot Camps, many of which offer a refund if you don’t land a job. There are Master’s in Computer Science programs targeted at non-majors. Or you can do a Bachelor’s in Computer Science–but it might make the most sense financially.
- MFA in Creative Writing: you could have been living in a yurt in Mongolia for the past two decades, but as long as you were writing in that yurt, you’re fine.
- Master’s in Psychology: check whether you need foundation courses in Psychology to apply, as this changes on a program-by-program basis.
Common Question: Do You Need a Second Bachelor’s Degree to Be A Nurse?
BSN: Nursing shortages are frequent–and it’s also one of the most holistic ways of practicing medicine. But do you need to have majored in Nursing as an undergrad to become a nurse?
In order to even apply for Nursing School or a BSN Program, you’ll need certain prerequisites like Biology, Anatomy, and Statistics. That means you might need to go back to school to take these select courses (not get a whole bachelor’s degree), but you might not need a full bachelor’s degree.
But fear not! You can make up the time spent on prereqs in an Accelerated BSN Program, which is usually one year.
Common Question: Do You Need A Second Bachelor’s Degree to Apply For Medical School?
MD (a.k.a Medical School): Many folks who weren’t pre-med in college go on to have illustrious careers in medicine. Maybe in college, you studied Dance and didn’t touch a science class with a ten-foot pole, but then discovered your sudden urge to heal the masses. In cases like that, how do you apply to med school?
Getting a second bachelor’s degree is certainly an option to prepare to apply for medical school, but it would add more time to your already long medical school journey. It may also be worth looking into a post-baccalaureate premedical program (Post-Bacc Pre-Med or PBPM for short). In these accelerated 1-2 year programs, you fill all the requirements and knowledge bases to prepare you to succeed in med school.