How can I switch career fields with this gigantic roadblock?
October 4, 2012 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Why do so many universities have such an outright ban on applicants seeking a second bachelor's degree? Is it all about logistics and preventing overcrowding? What about those of us who find our real passion later in life, and wish to do a complete 360 from our original college degree? If you have a 2nd bachelor's degree, why and how did you do it? Special snowflake details inside.

Several years ago (2004), I graduated with a BA in history. At the time, it seemed like the right fit. Now, having worked as a paralegal in the real world for several years, I've come to realize that my real passion is nutrition, and what I really want to do is become a nutritionist (I'm 31). I took the bare minimum science and math requirements in college, as I was suffering from depression at the time, and would have a panic attack every time I could not find the solution to a math problem. Now, in a moment of bittersweet hindsight, I realize I should not have let my anxiety prevent me from pursuing a subject I love. I want to go back to school, and get a BS in nutritional science so that I may one day become a nutritionist or food scientist. But just about every university website I visit has the dreaded phrase, "We do not accept applications from candidates seeking a second bachelor's degree." Why do they do this, and does this mean I can never change career fields? Please send any anonymous advice to: unhappy_paralegalAToperamailDOTcom.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think that phrase does not mean what you think it means. They mean they don't want you doing a second bachelors in nutrition when your first degree was in nutrition.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:07 PM on October 4, 2012

Are you looking at public universities? I'm a second degree student at a public university, and there are loads of others at mine.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:09 PM on October 4, 2012

You might also look into what are called "post baccalaureate" programs, designed for people in exactly your situation - for example, people who decide after they graduate that they want to go to med school. Post-bacc programs are a way to take all those hard-science classes you missed, to prepare for applying to med/vet/etc school.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:14 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

A few years ago I was looking into a second bachelors degree, and was told by the state university system that they were not accepting students for second bachelors degrees (even though my previous bachelors degree was over a decade old at that point) because their space was limited due to budget cuts and they'd chosen to provide an education to people without any degree first.
posted by erst at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I stand corrected. I just checked at at least one program (Berkeley) specifically prohibits applicants who already have a bachelors in any subject. However, I also found others that seemed to only be preventing people from repeating the degree as a refresher. You might want to look into post-bacc and masters programs, though. If you're going to spend 2 years in university, perhaps you'd rather get a masters while working as a TA/RA with funding.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2012

But just about every university website I visit has the dreaded phrase, "We do not accept applications from candidates seeking a second bachelor's degree."

Have you tried Googling ["second bachelor's degree" nutrition]? When I Google that, most of the top results are universities explaining how they do accept applicants for second bachelor's degrees. Example, example, example, example... It seems that you sometimes have to follow the same process as transfer students, so you might want to go to the transfer section of admissions pages.
posted by John Cohen at 9:31 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you go for a master's program instead, the schools will often let you take undergrad classes to catch up with the classes that you didn't take in your original degree program.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:45 PM on October 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

It's not necessary for you to be an undergrad all over again. A large portion of a bachelors degree consists of the distribution classes (or gen ed, or whatever they called it at your school) that form the "backbone" of a college education but are not specific to your major.

You can get into a master's program even if your bachelors is completely unrelated to nutrition science, you would just arrange to take your missing science-related prerequisites first. Contact the universities that you're considering and talk to the graduate admissions office and ask them how they handle a situation like yours, they hear this all the time.
posted by desuetude at 10:10 PM on October 4, 2012 [15 favorites]

If you have a bachelor's degree, and you want to get another one, it's a "post baccalaureate" degree, as others have said. Almost always, there is a separate process, either as a transfer student, or direct application into the department (instead of as a general student).

IMO, your best bet would be to contact the admissions office of the Nutritional science department at the universities you're interested in and directly asking them what the process is.

On preview: Or, see if you qualify for a Master's as someone else said.
posted by ethidda at 10:24 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're looking at this in the wrong way. First off, I'm going to assume that you want to be a dietitian, not a nutritionist, because "nutritionist" is not (at least in most of the US) a legally protected job category. Dietitian is, however: you would be certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. More later, but they are the primary resource you want to use as you plan your move into this profession.

It is possible that a BS from your old school--plus, probably, a year of postgrad clinical experience--would qualify you to be an RD (Registered Dietitian), but this is not the only path you can follow.

If you only want to get your feet wet, you could find an associate's degree-plus-internship which would qualify you to work as a Registered Dietetic Technician (styled as "Dietetic Technician, Registered" or DTR, probably so it starts with "D"). These programs will be offered by community colleges, will be inexpensive, and probably won't care if you already have a degree.

However, since you already have a bachelor's, I think you should take the post-grad/MS route, as several people upthread mentioned. It's possible that you'll need to mop up a few basic science credits, and you can probably do this at a community college as well. This isn't medical school, so there won't be organized post-bacc programs. Instead, whichever program you end up applying to will simply have a list of prerequisite undergrad-level classes.

For instance, the Master's program at UIC (my local state school) requires:

English composition I
English composition II
General Biology with lab — Cell Biology focus*
Microbiology with lab*
Organic Chemistry (no lab needed)*
General Chemistry — two courses with lab*
Foods with lab
Introduction to Nutrition

They also have basic GPA/test score requirements:

Minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
Minimum GRE score of 145 Quantitative and 155 Verbal

Which you can improve, if you need to, while you're doing your prerequisites.

Since the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the certifying body, you want to go through them to find a suitable accredited program in your neck of the woods.

All of these programs will require both coursework and an internship, which can be completed separately or as a part of a coordinated program, where the school you're accepted to sets up a supervised practice internship for you through an institution it has a working relationship with. Since you didn't provide any information about where you're located, I can't look up what kinds of programs are available near you, but, since the two halves of the program can be separate (i.e. the classwork and the internship), I'm fairly sure you can take the didactic half as a distance student, and then find a local internship once you're finished--you aren't limited to local schools/your alma mater.
posted by pullayup at 10:52 PM on October 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

Is it all about logistics and preventing overcrowding?

Interesting. Double degrees are becoming the norm in Australia, albeit completed concurrently (eg BA / LLB, B Econ / B Comm, B Ed / B Psych). For example, 40 per cent of Australian National University students complete a double degree (and the uni has now moved to allow people to commence post-grad study while an undergrad - a so-called 'vertical double degree'!)

On the one hand, this means nobody bats an eyelid if you want to do a second undergrad degree. I know plenty of people who've returned to pursue a passion in their 30s and later - classics, environmental science, English. My department's latest round of graduates was almost entirely comprised of double degree-holders who'd already completed some post-grad study, like a Grad Cert or Grad Dip. ('If it makes you feel better, you can calculate production-possibility frontiers in your head while you punch holes in these papers.')

On the other, it does seem to be devaluing single undergrad degrees. 'What, just one? What's wrong with them?' I suspect having a single degree would rule out a grad from many public service entry programs simply because so many grads have two.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:18 AM on October 5, 2012

It completely depends on the institution. Some institutions will let you have a second degree without a hitch others like Berkeley, are an outright "no". If you are in the state of California, the public university system, especially the lower divisions, are having a hard time providing classes and sections due to budgetary constraints, so you taking up space might be a real issue.

If you already have an undergraduate degree you might want to take a look at a graduate degree. Trust me, the graduate committee will make you take a chunk of undergrad courses if they feel that you need it to be competitive with your fellow grad students. The first step is to to call the university and get a hold of the graduate coordinator of the program so you can be put in contact with the correct advisor, if necessary, to get you either a graduate degree or post-baccalaureate program.

Seriously, do you want to take ALL that lower division again? A lot of undergrad degrees are 120 credits while majors are 40 credits, possibly 60 if there is licensure or accreditation involved. So the best course of action is to get to a coordinator or advisor to get you on the best track to maximize the quality of the experience and the time applied. The applies to my experience in US schools.
posted by jadepearl at 5:30 AM on October 5, 2012

My old college roommate majored in polysci and then decided she wanted to go to grad school for psychology. So she applied to a postbac program in psychology that lets her take all the prerequisites for psych grad school while avoiding Feminist Perpectives on 80s Cartoons and PhysEd 101 or whatever the hell. You don't WANT a second bachelor's degree, you want a postbac!
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:46 AM on October 5, 2012

Another thing to consider is that federal financial aid will generally not pay for a second degree of the same type (A second BA for instance). It varies school by school, but many institutions won't want to accept you if you have no chance of getting any fed support.
posted by Think_Long at 6:10 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know someone who is in grad school for nutrition right now and that was not what she got her BA in. It's totally doable.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:15 AM on October 5, 2012

I have a BA in English and an MBA. I wanted to become a CPA, but you need a certain amount of coursework specifically in Accounting for that. So I applied at Georgia State University. They accepted me with no problem, BUT they won't accept any of my prior coursework towards their BS in Accounting. Also, unless you're enrolled in their degree program, AND you complete their pre-requiste courses, you can't take just the Accounting courses.


So, screw that. If I ever get the bug to actually do this (I only get desperate when I'm job hunting) I'll just take the courses through something like MIT OpenCourseWare. (when they get Accounting on there.)

My recommendation is that you go to your state's licensing board, find out what you need to become a licenced Dietition (or whatever) and then take the coursework at a community college.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a BS in Communications and a BS in Behavioral Health Science, currently working on my MS in Arts Administration. When I was applying for the second BS program, I applied for the continuing education program, which is something you should look into (I am around your age). Most Universities' undergraduate programs are geared around gen ed and the "seriously guys, don't do drugs or piss off your roommate" factors of college life. Generally they want students in the same peer group to study together. There are programs specifically designed for working adults where you work/study with other working adults.
posted by picklesthezombie at 6:40 AM on October 5, 2012

Seriously, do you want to take ALL that lower division again? A lot of undergrad degrees are 120 credits while majors are 40 credits, possibly 60 if there is licensure or accreditation involved. So the best course of action is to get to a coordinator or advisor to get you on the best track to maximize the quality of the experience and the time applied. The applies to my experience in US schools.

In a lot of places you can get a second Bachelor's degree without repeating all those lower division classes. At some (most?) City University of New York colleges, for instance, (here's York College's requirements, scroll down) one can do a second bachelors by just doing 40 credits and fulfilling the major requirements.
posted by Jahaza at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2012

I work with a guy who got a B.A. in English, bummed around for 4 years, and went back to the same school for a BSME. He had to go for another 6 semesters, but they waived all the non-engineering courses. Also, he got zero money for financial aid. But in his case, he's making a lot more now than he ever would have with just the English degree.
posted by disconnect at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2012

My situation might be highly specific to where I live (Ireland), but take a look anyway:

I graduated in 2011 with a BA in English/History, then immediately (as in January of this year) started what's called a Higher Diploma in a computing subject. This is technically a post-graduate qualification, in that you need a previous undergraduate degree to do it, but in Ireland's framework for educational awards it's the same 'level' as a Bachelor's degree.

When I studied for my BA, I knew a guy who returned to college after twenty years to get a Higher Diploma in Philosophy - in his case, that meant completing a full undergraduate philosophy degree in two years (usually takes three, but he did JUST philosophy without any other subject requirements).

In Ireland, at least, it is absolutely possible to do the kind of career-switch-via-college you're talking about. I'm pretty sure most Irish universities don't actually have any problem with people doing as many Bachelor's degree as they like, but even if they do, there are plenty of opportunities to go back and study something else without going for a 'second BA'.

Assuming anything remotely similar exists where you live, the colleges themselves would be the best people to ask. Find out if the ones you're looking at have any equivalent to a 'Mature Students' office (in Irish parlance, a 'Mature Student' is anyone over 23 years old). Try to get them on the phone if you can - in my experience, the people who work at university offices are far more helpful than any website. I would be very surprised if it's completely impossible for you to do that degree.
posted by anaximander at 11:32 AM on October 5, 2012

I've got a Bachelor's in Psychology and now I'm back in school getting an Accounting degree; the community college I attend had no problem with my degree and gave me lots of credits for things I'd already taken, so I didn't have to take Comp 101 or Algebra again. Because they have so many students who get AAs through them, then go on to the local university, they were able to tell me generally what I should take in order to transfer (though my adviser also suggested making an advising appointment at the university, just to be sure). I would definitely look into attending a community college to get the basics you missed the first time and talking to them about where to transfer to for the RD degree. The tuition at a community college is much cheaper and there are lots of returning students, so it's not all 19-year-olds in your classes (I'm 48 and the students I see at school range from 18 to 50 or so). And since they have so many returning students, they often have online classes; all my classes so far have been online.

Also, to correct what someone said above, financial aid--in the form of loans--is absolutely available to those who already have degrees. What isn't available is Pell grants.

And you might take a look at this website; in between the recipes, she talks a lot about what being an RD is like, what jobs are out there, etc.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:51 AM on October 5, 2012

Also, to correct what someone said above, financial aid--in the form of loans--is absolutely available to those who already have degrees. What isn't available is Pell grants.

This is true, but getting a second bachelor's degree does not increase the aggregate Stafford loan cap for undergrads, which is $57,500. There's a higher cap for graduate students. So, if you do go for a second undergrad degree, the combined total of the Stafford loans for your original degree plus the loans for your new degree must be less than that amount, or you'll wind up in private loansville, which is a bad place to be.
posted by pullayup at 4:05 PM on October 7, 2012

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