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Graduate and Professional School

With an increasingly competitive job market, more students are considering post-baccalaureate education as a means to achieve their goals of higher education and higher-paid positions. Graduate study options are available for students with a wide variety of majors and intended careers. Caution, as the decision to go to graduate school shouldn't be taken lightly. Graduate programs require a lot of work and if you enter immediately after receiving your undergraduate degree, student burnout is a common issue. Many employers look for real-world experience just as much as a graduate degree, so you may want to consider employment. To decide whether graduate school is right for you, you should first research employment in your prospective field and see what employers want and don’t want.

Graduate and Professional Programs

Post-baccalaureate education comes in many forms, from one-year certificate programs to doctoral degrees, which require many years of work and dedication. There are different time commitments and workloads for graduate and professional programs, as well as a variety of goals. Also consider whether you’re seeking an academic or professional degree program, if you are pursuing a terminal degree- a degree that is at the end of its discipline. For example, many art programs stop at a Master of Fine Arts degree, or MFA. Some careers may require a terminal degree, while others might want you to hold off on receiving one until you’re ready to apply for top-level positions.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between academic and professional, which are directly relevant to your career choices. An academic degree generally prepares you for further study in the field, often moving towards a teaching or research profession. The emphasis is on subject matter, especially theory and research. A professional degree, by contrast, prepares you to work in a particular field. Often, a professional degree is required for a particular occupation or job title. Examples of professional degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), law degrees and medical degrees.

Choosing a Program

Graduate education options are expanding, as new programs are added and more institutions now offer post-baccalaureate degrees. While this is very much helpful, it broadens your education options, which can be overwhelming. Everyone has different factors to consider, but here are some general things to keep in mind while searching through lists of graduate and professional programs and deciding which is right for you:

  • Emphasis

    Prospective graduate students will generally know what they want to study or do. So it only makes sense you’d pick a graduate program that helps you gain entrance into a specific domain. Look for a graduate program that offers the specializations you are interested in, and also has a teaching philosophy that aligns closely with your own. Track professor and student study and activity, and see if anything piques your interest. If a graduate program isn’t going to help you do what you want to do, then why spend all that time and money on it?
  • Quality

    Graduate programs may offer the education and course work you are looking for, but that is not all you should be looking for. After all, you have specific goals in mind, and you need to know that your school will adequately help you meet them. In addition to standardized test scores and graduation rates, pay attention to the quality and caliber of the faculty and department.
  • Job Placement

    Even the most scholarly of students anticipate worthy paychecks. When choosing your graduate program, you may want to pick one that will help you get a job after graduation. Look to see past graduate statistics, as they relate to degree earned and employment. Research how students in your program fare post-graduation, and see what the school and your department will do to help you succeed.
  • Costs and Aid

    Graduate and professional programs are even more expensive than undergraduate degrees, and students often have additional financial obligations to consider when deciding to apply. In addition to a program’s prestige, placement rates, and focus, you’ll also want to look at its costs before you apply. If you know you can’t pay for school without significant graduate financial aid, such as a fellowship or assistantship, make sure you apply to programs that offer those. Otherwise, there are also a number of external scholarship opportunities for graduate students, law students, and medical students. If you’re concerned about costs, spending some time on a scholarship search can help make your graduate education more financially manageable.

Last Edited: July 2015

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