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Thoughts on Choosing a Graduate Program

Posted on July 11, 2016
Choosing a Grad School

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were an estimated 802,000 Master’s degrees conferred during this year. By Spring of 2020, that number will be just under 900,000. The larger the number of advanced degrees conferred, the more they become required. If you are feeling stuck, missing out on promotions, or feel you are lacking in the necessary skills to advance your career, then graduate school might be the right choice for you.

The NCES also broke down the earned degrees into 32 fields of study with business representing 25% of all degrees, education representing 20%, and health-related representing 13%. Within each field, there may be a dozen or more options. Within business alone, there are more than 10 options. How do you know which one is right for you?

Here are some things to consider (in no specific order):

  • Millennials tend to not just switch jobs every so often, but careers as well, do you fit into that category? Would you prefer to pursue a degree that gives you some flexibility?
  • What are your current strengths and weaknesses? How do those strengths and weaknesses align with your goals?
  • What do you like to do AND what do you don’t like to do?
  • Are you planning on working while you earn your degree?

In honestly answering the questions above, you have made the first steps toward narrowing down which type of program will best suit you and help you achieve your goals. For example, if you really don’t like working with social media, then an MS in Marketing is likely not good choice for you.

To further narrow down your list of options, you should look at the strengths of the different programs, what each program offers, and how each one will prepare you for your future. Don’t be drawn in by name and reputation alone, also look at the supporting services each institution offers: ability to connect with your professors and the administrative team, advising, and career services. No school is can offer everything, nor will every school be a perfect fit for you.

Once you have a list of schools and programs, reach out to the Program Directors or Department Chairs and ask questions, such as:

  • Tell me about the program
  • Tell me about the students in the program
  • What kinds of positions do the alumni have?
  • Is there a sense of community?
  • Who would I contact if I have a problem?
  • How accessible you are (program director/dept. chair)?
  • Even though this is an online program, can I ever set up a face-to-face meeting? Or are there online options in this program?
  • Tell me about the professors/instructors
  • Will I have an assigned advisor? Will s/he help me choose my courses each term?

Attend open houses (in person or virtually) where you can ask more questions. Look at the program’s social media pages and see how active they are, what content they are posting on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Shy away from programs when program directors or department chairs tell you their program is by far the best and no other compares. It is not in the best interest of the prospective student or the program to reel in students when the it likely won’t be a good fit.

Ultimately, the right program and school for you will surface, but before you apply, live with it, imagine yourself attending, graduating, and how that program and that school will help you achieve your career goals.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Posted in professional-development-career-tips