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Considering a Graduate Degree? Answer these questions first

By Jeremy Couch
If you are thinking about pursuing your graduate degree, let me be the first to commend you for your desire to attain new knowledge and improve your career options. Deciding to enroll in a graduate program is a major step that should not be entered into lightly. Instead, it should be given much thought and consideration. In order for your time and money to be invested wisely, consider the following questions before selecting a graduate program:

Area of Study: What subject area interests you? Answering this question is key because you need to find a degree program that aligns with your interests. Otherwise, why are you pursuing the degree? If it is just for a job that you are not passionate about, you will probably end up losing interest in the program at some point. You might even withdraw from the program to pursue something else. Head this off at the beginning by clarifying your interests and finding a program related to those interests.

Career Goals: What are your career goals, and how will this degree program help you achieve them? Start with the end in mind by deciding what you want to accomplish in the long-term through this graduate degree. If you are unclear as to why you are doing this, it will be hard to maintain the discipline and commitment necessary for completing the degree. Your career goals should be in alignment with your selected area of study, which should be aligned with your interests.

Cost: Can you afford the total cost of the program? Tuition prices can vary widely, so take the time to compare prices at various institutions. If you are not able to pay out-of-pocket (which most students are not able to do), then verify that you qualify for a student loan. Also, make sure that you will be able to afford the monthly payments on the new loan after you graduate. You will need to factor this into your monthly budget.

Accreditation: Is the institution you are considering regionally accredited? If not, this should be a major red flag and cause for concern. Ensuring the proper accreditation of the institution is essential for providing you with a quality education that will be respected by employers. All institutions must disclose this information, so it is very easy to obtain. If you want to examine their accreditation even closer, you can look up the institution on their accreditor’s website to find out if there are any current violations for the institution.

Format: Do you want to attend class on-campus or online? Higher education today is more accessible for working professionals than any time in history. Nowadays you have a plethora of learning modality options available to you, which is a great thing! If you want to attend classes on-campus, find out how many days per week you will need to attend, along with the time requirements for the classes. An online program is a great option if you travel often or do not have a campus within reasonable driving distance, but the style of learning required for an online program does not suit everyone. For this reason, it is important that you pick the appropriate format for your needs and learning style.

Asking and answering each of these questions will help you make an informed decision about the graduate degree program and institution that is right for you. The more clarity you can have in these areas, the easier the application and admissions process will be because you will have done your due diligence. You will also have clear direction about how this degree will help you achieve your career goals and improve your life, which will ultimately help you succeed in your new graduate program.

Jeremy Couch is a higher education administrator, adjunct instructor, and leadership consultant based in Orlando, FL. He is currently the campus director for the Orlando Campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University and an adjunct business instructor at Rasmussen College. He is also pursuing his doctoral degree in organizational leadership with an emphasis in higher education. Jeremy also runs the Blog JeremyJCouch.com.

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