How to Write a Graduate Statement of Purpose (SOP) in a Field of Study different from your bachelor’s degree

Why SOP in a Different Field of Study

It’s very common for people to work in fields different from what they studied in college or university. In fact various studies show that on average, only 27% of the total workforce in America is working in careers related to their undergraduate studies. This trend is especially common for people who studied liberal arts and humanities.

                Many people therefore find themselves at a crossroad when they want to apply for graduate studies. On one hand, they have pursued a career in which they’d like to further their studies to improve prospects of promotion and high income. On the other hand, they feel that they do not have the requisite academic foundation given that they studied something entirely different in college/undergraduate.

                Take for instance someone who pursued a course in education and now finds herself in the health sector as a public educator. If she’s to advance in her new career path, further education in the form of Master of Science in Public Health would do her a world of good.

                Luckily, some of the top universities in the world don’t even require that applicants to their graduate program to have a degree in the particular field of study. Take for example the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a prestigious university that offers some of the most coveted courses in healthcare. As shown in the picture below that captures the requirements, a degree in healthcare is not a prerequisite to apply for MSPH.

This image shows the admission requirements for a graduate program in public healthcare at John Hopkins University. It's evident that you don't require a first degree in healthcare to qualify for a masters program in the same.
Admission requirements at John Hopkins

Another example is the famed MBA, which now attracts applicants from across all fields of study. Engineers, computer scientists, medics, teachers, and lawyers, among other professionals, are admitted in MBA schools in large numbers.

                A scan through websites of many top universities shows that most MBA schools do not care what the applicants studied as their first degrees. Take for instance the prestigious Columbia Business School. To apply for an MBA, one doesn’t need to have pursued a business or management related course, as shown in the picture below.

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This image shows the admission requirements for an MBA degree at Columbia Business School. It's purpose is to show that you don't need a first degree in business and management to qualify.
MBA requirements at CBS

Standardized Tests

If you don’t have college or undergraduate studies in the field you wish to pursue a master’s program in, one way of improving your chances of acceptance is to pass the standardized tests. If you read through the requirements page of many top universities, you’ll find that they require you to demonstrate your preparedness for the program by passing certain tests.

                A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is one of the most common tests. Simply, this test measures your general knowledge and is considered a standard gauge of applicants’ preparedness for graduate studies.

                Alternatively, you may be required to pass specialized standardized tests, most of them tailored to the graduate field of study. For MBA programs for instance, you may be asked to pass the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). For law, you may be required to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). For medical students, you may be required to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The Statement of Purpose

A statement of Purpose offers you the best chance to explain your background, achievements, research, teaching, and professional experience, and why you’re a good fit for the program and educational institution. If not having college or undergraduate studies in your desired field of graduate studies is an impediment, a well-crafted SOP can help you get away with it, literally.

                If you’re new to SOPs, then we’ve a handy article that explains what it is, the language and style to use, tips to make a SOP stand out, and the ‘do nots’ of the statement of purpose.

                If you’re not so new to the admission document but you’re still unsure how to go about writing it, we’ve also provided a step by step guide that also includes five samples that won admission to top universities.

                If you need an academic CV or admission resume, we have also prepared an article that explains the format.

                This article is specifically for the kind of SOP written for a program other than what the applicant studied in college or undergraduate. To make the SOP compelling, focus on the following:

Follow Requirements

If the university has outlined what they require in the SOP, follow it to the letter. Some programs have essay prompts that slightly deviate from the standard Statement of Purpose requirement and if you don’t follow them, your application is dismissed without any consideration.

Underline Transferable Research Experience

Generally, a SOP is an opportunity to show that you’ve accumulated experience that will stand you in good stead to excel with research in graduate studies. Luckily, most courses confer similar type of research experiences that can be easily transferred between subjects.

                An individual who has done research in classroom teaching has acquired experience not so dissimilar to the one who has studied health education. The inter-disciplinary nature of these studies means that they borrow a lot from each other and most can be studied through the same approaches.

                You may for instance explain that during your research for undergraduate education thesis, you collected and analyzed data that helped you create learners’ profile that formed the basis for instructional differentiation. You may state that this experience will be applicable to your public health studies since public health initiatives can only be effective when they are tailored to individuals and communities as opposed to a ‘one-shoe-fit-all-approach’.

Underscore your Professional Experience

If you’re applying for an MBA in particular and you’ve no academic background in business or management, you may need to emphasize that you’ve practical experience. If you come from an engineering background for instance, it’s vitally important to underscore in your SOP that you’ve practical management experience in managing finance, people, or projects.

                You may for instance explain that you’ve managed a team of 50 people and the nuance and subtlety of working with many people have led you to believe that an MBA can take you to the next level.

Explain your Research Interest

Picture yourself as part of the admission committee and imagine the effect an applicant’s having clear and important research interests would have on you.

                As an applicant, strive to explain what attracted you to this new field and the research question you want to address. This explanation may be a personal story that changed the way you view life or a challenge that opened your eyes to where your purpose lays.

                If you’re switching from teaching to public health, you may narrate about a personal experience that left you convinced that you can make more impact in public health.

                Remember to explain the gaps that you see in your area of research interest and suggest the approaches that you’ll take. You may for instance take the view that the lack of individualized public health education approaches has excluded so many that don’t fit in the established modules, and that you want to bring to the fore new methods that will ensure no one is left behind.

Explain your strengths

I always insist that a SOP is no place to be modest. Flaunt your strengths and make it known what you’ve achieved and will bring to the program. Mention the grants, scholarships, and other accolades you’ve accumulated. This will help the admission committee know that you’ve the mental acuity and stamina to withstand the rigors of a graduate program.

Explain your Suitability for the Program

This is a no-brainer. Explain why you and the program are a match for each other.

Sample #1: Statement of Purpose Sample for Public Health with background in Education

Growing up in the rural areas of the country’s most marginalized places, my career path was clear. I would either become a priest, teacher, or a farmer. Teaching seemed the most attractive proposition then. Like my mother and grandmother, I enjoyed every part of my job. To cap it all, I met the love of my life, a fellow teacher. Six months into a whirl wind of romance, we were vacationing in Africa for our honeymoon with our free spirits and love of adventure taking us to the core of the Congo forest in pursuit of the gorillas. Then something happened that that scared us to death. A deadly disease broke out and started spreading like wildfire. Ebola, a disease that could kill within a day struck and soon, we were in isolation staring at death. With just pain killers to manage the disease, my husband was gradually breathing his last and while my symptoms were mild, the thought of dying in a foreign country was very frightening. Three weeks later and luckily out of danger; we were airlifted out of the Congo but not without facing a fair share of discrimination. In our own country, not even our family members and close friends wanted to get near us despite being given a clean bill of health.

                The Ebola moment was a chance for me to reflect on knowledge, my life, the choices I had made, and my purpose in life. Firstly, it dawned on me that while medicine and healthcare are treated as scientific disciplines, they actually have a big element of social science. As long as they dealt with people, they had to focus as much on people behavior, its modifications, and how people learn. As a teacher, it shook me to the core that health departments do not take public health education as seriously as they should. The misinformation that characterized our handling by some including health officials showed that public health education has either been neglected or is non-existent. And to think that we count ourselves lucky is a reflection of the pathetic state of public health education. So many people needlessly died in Africa from a disease that could be controlled through public education. If health educators for instance focused on education, it could save more lives than a doctor’s prescription. But then, why does public health education fail even in places where it is well funded and its practitioners “well trained?”

                My prior research took me to the syllabus and course content of the country’s foremost trainers of public health educators. It piqued my teacher instincts that there wasn’t particular focus on differentiation instructional to the consumers; the public. This was particularly profound for me as my undergraduate thesis was focused on Tomlinson’s ideas on differentiating instructional methods to fit the profile of diverse learners. During my literature review, data collection, and analysis, I gathered that even specialized teachers do not know how to customize their methods to the individual needs of the learners. I reckon that this problem could be even bigger for health educators. In a country as diverse as ours in terms of age, gender, race, and socio-economic determinants and so on, a singular approach to health education cannot work. I intend to bring my teaching and research experience to this important area of study to work out individualized methods through which public health education can be delivered to save lives and alleviate the pressure on the health sector.

                XXX University is an attractive proposition for me for many reasons. The ideas of differentiated public health education that are articulated so well in education circles find their best expression in the university’s individual-centric and community-centered approach to teaching the MSPH program. I am also intrigued by the research work of Dr. YYY, whom it would be an absolute honor to work with. Her seminal work on ‘Rethinking public health education’ resonates with my research interest.                 I believe that the MSPH program will be beneficial for my career as a public health educator and eventually in teaching the same as it is my long term career plan. I intend to harness all my experience in education to improve wellness and reduce deaths emanating from lack of basic health literacy. I also hope to shape many health educators by equipping them with modern health teaching methods.

Sample #2: Statement of Purpose Sample for MBA with Background in Engineering

I was always destined for a career in engineering. My laid back personality augured well with a profession in which I did not have to interact with people a lot. Luckily, I was also extremely good in math, sciences, and computers. As early as my elementary school, I was thinking about using numbers to create effective and simple solutions to a myriad of challenges that faced my family and community. Once during the STEM Challenge, I presented a transportation model that employed artificial intelligence to notify road users on the traffic situation in major roads in the city. Because of this proposal, I met the State governor and was appointed the State ambassador of the Smart Youths Solution, an initiative that nurtures young talented innovators.

                For my undergraduate studies, the choice to study an engineering and computer degree was an obvious one. Building on my exemplary performance in math, sciences, and computers, I immersed myself into the world of programming and engineering and was soon noticed by prof. XXX who invited me to his laboratory as part of the team that was modeling infrastructural solutions using AI. My contribution to the complex coding enterprise earned me a $2000 grant to simultaneously purse a coding and programming course at the prestigious YYY. My stint there would earn by an internship at ZZZ where my people and community-centric solutions using engineering and computer models was widely recognized.

                After graduation, I had multiple job offers and I took a position at XXX Company. I was immediately tasked with leading a team of 12 programmers at a young age of 19. By the time I was 21, I was the programming head with a team of 30 spread across three continents. This new role was at odd with my personality. I felt at home coding and creating solutions behind the computer not addressing people, some old enough to be my parents.

                As one who was brought up to face challenges, I found myself scouring the internet for tips and courses on how to manage people. I enrolled in a few of them and started reaping the rewards as I could now be calmer managing a team. But I wanted more. My search led me to XXX University and I was immediately impressed by the syllabus, course content, and the radical teaching methodologies employed by the school. I was particularly happy to learn that the decorated MBA graduates from the school are from diverse backgrounds with those in technical courses forming the bulk.

                At XXX University, I will be keen on learning how engineering and computer models can be harnessed to enhance strategic thinking and management. My love for math and sciences is rooted in their ability to get precise answers. I look forward to learn how they can be applied to manage people and think strategically and in this respect, the work of Prof. XXX, who I look forward to working with, will be vitally important.

                My goal is to learn as much as I can about people management and strategic thinking and merge the knowledge with my training in engineering and computer to improve organizational efficiency. In a world where resources are rapidly getting thin and exhausted, there is need to employ solutions that optimize and conserve what we have. I desire to be a global leader in the new dispensation and an MBA at XXX University will go a long way in helping me in this regard.

Other Rated Samples


We’ve covered how to write a SOP applying for a graduate position in a field different from what you studied in college and undergraduate. The key is to use your statement of purpose that you’ve transferable research experience and show why your research interest is important.


PhD Statements of Purpose