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Do You Need a Bachelor’s Degree to Get a Master’s? No, and Here’s How.

Fast track your education by attending master’s programs without master’s requirements. Explore alternative educational pathways, learn about standout programs, and dive into lucrative fields of study below.

Author: Brenda Barron

Editor: Mikalee Byerman

A young woman with long brown hair, wearing glasses and a denim shirt, smiles at the camera while carrying a shoulder bag. In the background, a group of people converse in a brightly lit room, with some holding books and papers.

Did you know that many students begin pursuing a master’s degree before even earning their bachelor’s? If you’re considering this alternative method of education, you’re not alone. Many ambitious students are exploring non-traditional pathways.

Whether you’ve excelled in an associate degree program or have gained substantial work experience, the road to a master’s degree is open — even if you don’t have your bachelor’s yet.

This method is somewhat non-standard, and each option comes with its own set of challenges, but this guide is here to help you navigate them. We’ll also spotlight schools that offer these programs and highlight potential careers that may suit you.

Ready to learn about this innovative approach to your graduate degree? Keep reading.

How to Earn a Master’s without Your Bachelor’s

If you’re wondering “Do you need a bachelor’s to get a master’s,” the answer is: not always. Earning a graduate degree without a bachelor’s may not be standard, but several viable pathways exist. Whether through combined programs, work experience, or non-traditional schooling, you have several options. Let’s review them below.

Option 1: Attend a Combined Master’s Degree Program

Combined master’s degree programs, also known as accelerated/dual degree programs, allow associate students to transition directly into a graduate program.

These programs are structured to blend undergraduate and graduate coursework over a span of five or six years. By the end, you’ll have earned your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. One example is the BS/MS Program in Engineering offered at Drexel University.

Pros & Cons of Combined Master’s Degree Programs

Pros

  • Saves time by combining degrees, often saving a year or more.
  • Potentially lowers the total cost of education by shortening how much time you spend studying.
  • Reduces the interruption of graduating and reapplying for a separate master’s program.

Cons

  • More demanding workload, often requiring more commitment and effort.
  • Reduces the opportunity to explore different fields or change specialization.
  • Requires students to commit to a graduate program earlier in their academic career.

Option 2: Combine Work Experience & Education

Some master’s programs acknowledge the value of professional experience. They offer admission based on the skills and knowledge gained in the workplace rather than strictly on academic credentials. You’ll typically be required to demonstrate substantial professional experience before admittance.

One example is the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA. This program was designed for mid-career professionals and requires an undergraduate degree of any kind to apply.

Pros & Cons of Combining Work Experience with Education

Pros

  • Provides a pathway for those without a traditional academic background.
  • Students typically have extensive industry experience, leading to better networking opportunities.
  • Coursework is often designed to integrate with real-world applications.

Cons

  • Often requires a significant amount of relevant work experience, shutting out younger students.
  • Admissions can be highly selective and competitive.
  • May be less focused on theoretical knowledge, which could be a disadvantage in some fields

Option 3: Choose a Program with No Bachelor’s Requirements

As we’ve mentioned, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to get a master’s. Certain master’s programs are designed to be accessible even without a four-year degree; instead, you may be required to pass a high-level assessment, interview, or demonstrate work experience.

One example is the Master of Science in Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, which does not require you to hold a bachelor’s degree or submit transcripts. Instead, you must complete a three-course pathway.

Pros & Cons of Programs Without Bachelor’s Requirements

Pros

  • Opens up advanced education to students who may not have completed a bachelor’s degree.
  • Emphasizes a candidate’s current abilities and educational readiness.
  • Often designed to enhance specific professional skills.

Cons

  • Can be challenging for those with no academic background.
  • Fewer programs offer this pathway, so finding options is challenging.
  • Some employers value a traditional educational path, potentially affecting career prospects.

Option 4: Choose a School Without Traditional Accreditation

Schools without typical accreditation may not conform to the same standards as other universities, but they can still offer a solid education at a reduced price. They typically emphasize skill-based learning and practical knowledge over conventional academic criteria.

The University of the People is a tuition-free, online institution that is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) but not through more commonly recognized accrediting bodies. DEAC accreditation may be enough for some careers and jobs, but not all.

Pros & Cons of Choosing Schools Without Traditional Accreditation

Pros

  • Typically less expensive than traditionally accredited institutions.
  • More likely to offer distance learning and flexible scheduling options.
  • Often at the cutting edge of new fields and disciplines unrecognized by mainstream schools.

Cons

  • Degrees from these schools may not be as widely recognized or respected in the job market.
  • Credits might not transfer to traditionally accredited institutions.
  • Students may not be eligible for government-funded financial aid programs.

Option 5: Earn a Graduate Certificate Instead of a Master’s Degree

Graduate certificate programs offer specialized education and training, allowing students to enhance their skills without committing to a full master’s degree program. These programs are shorter and designed to provide practical, workplace-applicable knowledge.

For example, the Graduate Certificate in Data Science at Harvard Extension School allows you to gain advanced knowledge in data science without enrolling in the full program.

Pros & Cons of Earning a Graduate Certificate

Pros

  • Can be completed in less time than a master’s degree.
  • Less expensive than full degree programs.
  • Quickly boosts skills and knowledge relevant to specific industries.

Cons

  • Less comprehensive than a master’s degree, offering less depth.
  • May not carry the same weight as a master’s degree for some employers.
  • May not qualify you for positions that require a master’s degree.

School Spotlight: Online Master’s Programs With no Bachelor’s Requirement

Now that we’ve explored various pathways to earn your graduate degree without a bachelor’s, let’s take a look at a few standout schools. Below, we highlight five of the best online master’s degree programs tailored for individuals without a bachelor’s.

Drexel University

The image shows the Drexel University logo, featuring a stylized blue dragon on the left and the text "Drexel University" in blue font on the right.

Drexel University’s Accelerated Master’s in Education is a hybrid program that allows aspiring educators to swiftly transition from undergraduate to graduate studies.

You’ll need to satisfy on-campus requirements, but most of the program is provided online. In five years, you can earn both your BS and MS in Education.

As part of the bachelor’s degree, you can work towards elementary- or secondary-level schooling, while the master’s component allows you to specialize in areas like international or special education.

Though parts of the program are online, there’s no absence of real-world experiences through internships and field experiences. Drexel offers other accelerated degrees as well as online degrees in various fields.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 90+
  • Length: 5 years
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

Monterey College of Law

The image displays the logo of Monterey College of Law, with the text "MONTEREY COLLEGE OF LAW" in uppercase letters, and the tagline "A Tradition of Excellence Since 1972" beneath it.

At the Monterey College of Law, you can earn your MLS or other law-related degrees through a hybrid-online course. These are delivered synchronously, so you’ll need to attend live. You’ll also need to attend a symposium once a year on campus. Otherwise, the program is 100% online.

The Master of Legal Studies program is ideal for students who wish to learn advanced law concepts without taking the bar exam. You must have completed at least an associate degree to apply — a bachelor’s is not required.

Aspiring lawyers can instead take the hybrid Doctor of Jurisprudence program, which also only requires an associate degree.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: 2 years
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California

Boston University

A red rectangular logo with white text reading "Boston University" centered inside. The text is capitalized and the word "Boston" is positioned above "University.

Boston University’s Master of Science in Computer Information Systems (MSCIS) program is one of many online options at the school. This program is accessible even to those without a bachelor’s degree, provided you have relevant work experience or certifications in the IT field.

There are plenty of other online programs at BU, as well as on-campus BA/MA and BS/MS dual programs in fields ranging from archaeology to English.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 40
  • Length: 2 years
  • Mode: 100% online
  • Accreditation: Project Management Institute Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs; Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education

University of Colorado Boulder

If you’re searching for computer science and engineering courses that are merit- rather than education-based, the University of Colorado Boulder offers several, including the MS in Computer Science.

This program is delivered through Coursera, and a bachelor’s or associate degree is not required. All you need to do is prove you’re ready for the program by taking the three-course pathway. You can even enroll in the non-credit version to preview the courses, subsequently upgrading to the for-credit version.

CU Boulder also offers other online programs with no bachelor’s requirement, like the Master’s in Electrical Engineering and MS in Data Science.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: 2 years (up to 8 years)
  • Mode: 100% online
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

Good Master’s Subjects for Non-Bachelor’s Holders

Finding a non-standard master’s program can be hard by itself, but it’s also important to consider the career outlook for your field of study. Selecting a subject with strong job prospects will ensure that your educational investment pays off. The following careers are just a few that are well-positioned for non-traditional educational pathways.

Education/Educational Leadership

A master’s degree in education is ideal for non-bachelor’s holders who have experience in teaching or training roles and wish to advance into leadership or specialized educational positions. This degree can open doors to administration roles.

Related Master’s Program: Drexel University’s Accelerated Master’s in Education

Career Outlook: Educational Administrator

Educational administrators are responsible for overseeing the daily operations of a school, including managing staff and implementing new policies. This role is perfect for those with strong leadership qualities and who are passionate about the educational system.

Job Title Median Salary Top 10% Salary Projected Growth (2032)

Educational Administrator (Post-Secondary)

$102,610

$209,870

2-4%

Source: ONet OnLine, 2023

Legal Studies

Earning a Master of Legal Studies is suitable for those involved in professions that require a deep understanding of the law but do not necessitate a law degree. In some states, you can skip the bachelor’s and start learning with just an associate degree.

Related Master’s Program: Monterey College of Law’s Master of Legal Studies

Career Outlook: Legal Analyst

Legal analysts interpret legal documents, support legal proceedings, and assist with research and case preparation. They’re typically employed in law firms or government agencies. This role is well-suited for detail-oriented individuals with strong analytical skills and a keen interest in law.

Job Title Median Salary Top 10% Salary Projected Growth (2032)

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

$60,970

$98,830

2-4%

Source: ONet OnLine, 2023

Computer Information Systems

If you already have a fair amount of technical expertise, pursuing a master’s degree in computer science can be a good choice for deepening your knowledge. Learning to manage complex systems and databases will enhance your eligibility for advanced IT roles.

Related Master’s Program: Boston University’s MS in Computer Information Systems

Career Outlook: IT Project Manager

IT project managers are responsible for overseeing complex tech projects. Ideal for organized people with strong leadership skills, this role spans various industries and allows you to specialize in a range of fields from government to corporate.

Job Title Median Salary Top 10% Salary Projected Growth (2032)

Information Technology Project Managers

$104,920

$174,300

9%

Source: ONet OnLine, 2023

Data Science

A master’s degree related to data science is an attractive option for technically minded people with a strong foundation in mathematics or programming. Data science and big data are rapidly growing industries that may rely more on your skills and aptitude than your educational background.

Related Master’s Program: University of Colorado Boulder’s MS in Data Science

Career Outlook: Data Scientist

Data scientists analyze complex data sets using predictive models, developing actionable insights and driving growth. They are highly valued in many industries including tech companies and financial institutions. Problem-solvers with analytical minds will enjoy a job like this one.

Job Title Median Salary Top 10% Salary Projected Growth (2032)

Data Scientist

$108,020

$184,090

9%

Source: ONet OnLine, 2023

Professional Accountancy

A master’s degree dedicated to professional accountancy enables you to specialize in fields like forensic accounting and investment accounting. If you have background experience in accounting, some master’s programs will accept you even without a bachelor’s degree.

Related Master’s Program: Eastern Washington University: Master of Professional Accounting

Career Outlook: Forensic Accountant

Hunting down fraud and other financial discrepancies is the job of a forensic accountant. Combining accounting skills with investigative techniques, you can land a government, legal, or financial job. This role may call to individuals who are detail-oriented and have a strong sense of ethics.

Job Title Median Salary Top 10% Salary Projected Growth (2032)

Fraud Examiners, Investigators and Analysts

$78,310

$139,960

5-8%

Source: ONet OnLine, 2023