I am a Chemical Engineering undergrad, and interested in pursuing a Masters in Artificial Intelligence and/or Machine Learning. I have taken a few courses in the CSE department as a part of my minor curriculum plus a few other courses, and also doing some projects in the same side-by-side. Now in the past I have faced some difficulties while taking some courses in the CSE department, and not really sure if it is going to be easy (if at all possible) to switch my majors.

What challenges am I going to face in terms of application/selection, and how can I get by them?

3 Answers 3


I assume that CSE = computer science engineering?

Like Kitty said, pursuing a Master's degree in a different area/field might be easier than a PhD, at least in terms of admissions. Many PhD programs like to see applicants with background in the subject so they can tackle the more advanced courses immediately. As such, they might be more reluctant to take a chance admitting a Chemical Engineering major for a PhD in AI compared to admitting one for the Master's degree. In addition, PhD cohorts tend to be much smaller than Master's level cohorts, which means Master's level admissions might be (relatively) less competitive compared to PhD level admissions. You might also want to check out the discussion here (slightly different, but still relevant).

Personally, I switched fields from undergraduate to graduate school, and I got admitted to most programs to which I applied. I think the biggest challenge is explaining why you want to make the switch. A question that came up during my interviews was why I was trying to switch fields at the graduate level instead of the undergraduate level (i.e., answering the "if you are interested in this field so much, why did you get a Bachelor's degree in something else" question). If you have a good answer to this, I think you'll be at least moderately successful.

Reviewers of your application might also want to see that you have the necessary intellectual skills for the degree, but if you did well in your chemical engineering major, you should be fine because the math, science, and writing skills should all be transferable. You mention that you had "difficulties" in the CSE classes, which you may need to explain, depending on what exactly those difficulties were.

Other than these, I think you'll just face the same challenges as everyone else applying in terms of making sure your recommendation letters are strong, standardized test scores (if applicable) are good, et cetera.


I was in a similar situation, coming from a chemical engineering background and moving into CSE. I second the advice to do a master's degree first, even if it adds a year to your timeline. I am more in applied maths than computer science but I think it is probably not too different.

I went the master's route, and it really gives you a chance to see what life is like in maths/CS department. This does not need to be a top 10 program as you may not be competitive for admission to such a program from the wrong undergraduate major. I would recommend finding a masters program in your target field that you can afford/ be funded for, and that has a lot of coursework options. In my case, I am doing a 2-year masters in Europe. I won't lie, it is not easy, as suddenly your classmates have 3 years of area-specific knowledge over you - that can make you feel lost and unintelligent. However, after a few months and some hard work you will find that it is not so bad. I think getting some specific technical training (i.e. courses at grad level) in your target area really strengthens your applications going forward. Doubly so if you can spin a paper in your new field out of your master's.

I managed this, and even if it is not the most spectacular work ever done, it shows that you have provable commitment to your new field. There are lots of eng undergrads who say "I want to go into maths/CS/finance" etc, and having some actual experience in a relevant department helps show that you are serious. When it came time for PhD applications I got in everywhere I wanted to go and I will be attending a top five US CSE PhD program in September.

One more thing, talk to the people you would like to work with, both at a master's and PhD level. Everyone I met was super helpful and understanding of the difficulties that come with changing fields. For example, my master's program helped make a sensible curriculum that covered, more or less, what I was missing. I was surprised at the number of math grad students (and even Professors) with engineering backgrounds.

  • Great Answer. I had a specific doubt though. I am working towards getting a paper or two published by the end of my undergrads. I wanted to ask how much does your CGPA matter as far as the selections are concerned? As you mentioned, I have done three PG level courses in CS and a few UG level ones as well, but not extraordinary grades in them. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 16:33
  • @AdityaKumarPraharaj Since I have no experience from the point of view of the admissions committee, I can't really say. Hopefully some academics on the site can give a better answer. I think an admissions committee would give you some leeway as getting an excellent grade in Functional Analysis is a lot tougher for someone who has not done analysis 1 and 2 (trust me!). That said, you obviously want to have a nice transcript. Ultimately, the only way to know is to apply.
    – JP Janet
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 17:06

I think pursuing a master in the major that you are interested in would be much easier than doing a PHD in similar area. To be selected and become a PHD student, applicants always got to have very good CGPA results in their Bachelor's degrees.
Some of my former classmates who were doing their PHDs all graduated with CGPA higher than 3.6 something.
Hope this help!

  • 1
    kitty, you are not pointing out any challenges (which was the question) just one prerequisite, the CGPA.
    – jclozano
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 21:26
  • 1
    I am sorry, but I had tried my best to help. ^_^
    – kitty
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 8:56
  • 2
    It was helpful though :)
    – jclozano
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 16:23

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