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Graduate and Professional School

In an increasingly competitive job market, more and more students are considering post-baccalaureate education as a means to achieving their goals. Graduate study options are available for students with a wide variety of majors and intended careers. The decision to go to graduate school is not one to be taken lightly, though. These programs require a lot of work and if you enter immediately after your undergraduate degree, burnout is a real problem to contend with. Also, many employers want real-world experience as much as they want a graduate degree, so it may be wise to work first. 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, ranging from one-year certificate programs to doctoral degrees that require years of work. With vastly different time commitments and work loads, graduate and professional programs also have a wide variety of goals. When deciding what education opportunities to pursue, you’ll have to consider whether you’re seeking an academic or professional degree program, and whether or not you’re pursuing a terminal degree, which means a degree that’s at the end of the line in a 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.

The academic versus professional distinction is also 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 will be on the 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 continue to expand, as new programs are added and more and more institutions begin offering post-baccalaureate degrees. This makes the task of choosing a graduate program more difficult than ever. Each individual will have different things to consider when making a selection, 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

    Chances are if you’re going to grad school, you have pretty specific things in mind you’d like to learn or do. So it only makes sense you’d pick a graduate program that helps you do those things. Look for a grad program that offers the specializations you want, and also has a teaching philosophy that aligns closely with your own. See what the students and the professors are doing 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

    Even if a program appears to offer the education you want, there are still other things to consider in deciding what will be best for you. 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 of the faculty and the department’s reputation.
  • Job Placement

    Even students with the most scholarly of goals eventually hope to collect a real paycheck. So when choosing your graduate program, you may want to pick one that will help you get a job after graduation. See if you can find out how many graduates got jobs or got into other graduate programs (unless you’re going after a terminal degree), and where they wound up. See how students in your program fare once they leave 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 they decide to apply. So in addition to the 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 manageable.

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